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The Underground History 

American Education 

John Taylor Gatto 


The shocking possibility that dumb people don't exist in sufficient numbers to 
warrant the millions of careers devoted to tending them will seem incredible to you. 
Yet that is my central proposition: the mass dumbness which justifies official 
schooling first had to be dreamed of; it isn't real. 

Bianca, You Animal, Shut Up! 

I Quit, I Think 

The New Individualism 

School As Religion 

He Was Square Inside And Brown 

The New Dumbness 

Putting Pedagogy To The Question 

Author's Note 


Of Schooling, Education, And Myself Chapter One 
The Way It Used To Be 

Our official assumptions about the nature of modern childhood are dead wrong. Children 
allowed to take responsibility and given a serious part in the larger world are always 
superior to those merely permitted to play and be passive. At the age of twelve, Admiral 
Farragut got his first command. I was in fifth grade when I learned of this. Had Farragut 
gone to my school he would have been in seventh. 

A Nation From The Bottom Up 

You Had To Do It Yourself 

No Limit To Pain For Those Who Allow It 

The Art Of Driving 

Two Approaches To Discipline 

The Schools Of Hellas 

The Fresco At Herculaneum 

The Seven Liberal Arts 

The Platonic Ideal 

Oriental Pedagogy 

Counter- Attack On Democracy 

How Hindu Schooling Came To America (I) 

How Hindu Schooling Came To America (II) 

How Hindu Schooling Came To America (III) 

Braddock's Defeat 


Ben Franklin 
George Washington 
Montaigne's Curriculum 

Chapter Two 

An Angry Look At Modern Schooling 

The secret of American schooling is that it doesn't teach the way children learn and it 
isn't supposed to. It took seven years of reading and reflection to finally figure out that 
mass schooling of the young by force was a creation of the four great coal powers of the 
nineteenth century. Nearly one hundred years later, on April 11, 1933, Max Mason, 
president of the Rockefeller Foundation, announced to insiders that a comprehensive 
national program was underway to allow, in Mason's words, "the control of human 

A Change In The Governing Mind 

Extending Childhood 

The Geneticist's Manifesto 

Participatory Democracy Put To The Sword 

Bad Character As A Management Tool 

An Enclosure Movement For Children 

The Dangan 

Occasional Letter Number One 

Change Agents Infiltrate 


Waking Up Angry 

Chapter Three 

Eyeless In Gaza 

Something strange has been going on in government schools, especially where the matter 
of reading is concerned. Abundant data exist to show that by 1840 the incidence of 
complex literacy in the United States was between 93 and 100 percent, wherever such a 
thing mattered. Yet compulsory schooling existed nowhere. Between the two world wars, 
schoolmen seem to have been assigned the task of terminating our universal reading 

The School Edition 

Intellectual Espionage 

Looking Behind Appearances 

The Sudbury Valley School 

Bootie Zimmer 

False Premises 

A System Of State Propaganda 

The Ideology Of The Text 

The National Adult Literacy Survey 

Name Sounds, Not Things 

The Meatgrinder Classroom 

The Ignorant Schoolmaster 

Frank Had A Dog; His Name Was Spot 

• The Pedagogy of Literacy 

• Dick And Jane 

Chapter Four 

I Quit, I Think 

I lived through the great transformation which turned schools from often useful places 
into laboratories of state experimentation with the lives of children, a form of 
pornography masquerading as pedagogical science. All theories of child-rearing talk in 
averages, but the evidence of your own eyes and ears tells you that average men and 
women don't really exist except as a statistical conceit. 

Wadleigh, The Death School 

Dr. Caleb Gattegno, Expert 


Hector Of The Feeble-Mind 

Hector Isn't The Problem 

One Lawyer Equals 3,000 Reams of Paper 

The Great Transformation 

Education As A Helix Sport 

I'm Outta Here! 


The Foundations Of Schooling Chapter Five 

True Believers And The 
Unspeakable Chautauqua 

From start to finish, school as we know it is a tale of true believers and how they took the 
children to a land far away. All of us have a tiny element of true believer in our makeups. 
You have only to reflect on some of your own wild inner urges and the lunatic gleam that 
comes into your own eyes on those occasions to begin to understand what might happen 
if those impulses were made a permanent condition. 

Munsterberg And His Disciples 
The Prototype Is A Schoolteacher 
Teachers College Maintains The Planet 
A Lofty, Somewhat Inhuman Vision 
Rain Forest Algebra 
Godless, But Not Irreligious 
An Insider's Insider 
Compulsion Schooling 
De-Moralizing School Procedure 
William Torrey Harris 
Cardinal Principles 
The Unspeakable Chautauqua 

Chapter Six 

The Lure Of Utopia 

Presumably humane Utopian interventions like compulsion schooling aren't always the 
blessing they appear to be. For instance, Sir Humphrey Davy's safety lamp saved 
thousands of coalminers from gruesome death, but it wasted many more lives than it 
rescued. That lamp alone allowed the coal industry to grow rapidly, exposing miners to 
mortal danger for which there is no protection. What Davy did for coal producers, forced 
schooling has done for the corporate economy. 

So Fervently Do We Believe 

The Necessity Of Detachment 

Enlarging The Nervous System 

Producing Artificial Wants 

The Parens Patriae Powers 

The Plan Advances 

Children's Court 

Mr. Young's Head Was Pounded To Jelly 

William Rainey Harper 

Death Dies 

The Three Most Popular Books 

No Place To Hide 

The Irony Of The Safety Lamp 

Chapter Seven 

The Prussian Connection 

In 1935, at the University of Chicago's experimental school where John Dewey had once 
held sway, Howard C. Hill, head of the social science department, published an 
inspirational textbook called The Life and Work of the Citizen. The title page clearly 
shows four cartoon hands symbolizing law, order, science, and the trades interlocked to 
form a perfect swastika. By 1935, Prussian pattern and Prussian goals had embedded 
themselves so deeply into the vitals of institutional schooling that hardly a soul noticed 
the traditional purposes of the enterprise were being abandoned. 

The Land Of Frankenstein 

The Long Reach Of The Teutonic Knights 

The Prussian Reform Movement 

Travelers' Reports 

Finding Work For Intellectuals 

The Technology Of Subjection 

The German/ American Reichsbank 

Chapter Eight 

A Coal-Fired Dream World 

A dramatic shift to mass production and mass schooling occurred in the same heady rush. 
Mass production could not be rationalized unless the population accepted massification. 
In a democratic republic, school was the only reliable long-range instrument available to 
accomplish this. Older American forms of schooling would not have been equal to the 
responsibility which coal, steam, steel, and machinery laid upon the national leadership. 
Coal demanded the schools we have and so we got them — as an ultimate act of 

Coal At The Bottom Of Things 

The Demon Of Overproduction 

The Quest For Arcadia 

Managerial Utopia 

The Positive Method 

Plato's Guardians 

Far-Sighted Businessmen 

Coal Gives The Coup De Grace 

The Spectre Of Uncontrolled Breeding 

Global Associations Of Technique 

Labor Becomes Expendable 

Burying Children Alive 

The End Of Competition 

America Is Massified 

German Mind Science 

Chapter Nine 

The Cult Of Scientific Management 

"In the past," Frederick Taylor wrote, "Man has been first. In the future, System must be 
first." The thought processes of the standardized worker had to be standardized, too, in 
order to render him a dependable consumer. Scientific management spread rapidly from 
the factory into the schools to seek this goal. 

Frederick W. Taylor 

The Adoption Of Business Organization By Schools 

The Ford System And The Kronstadt Commune 

The National Press Attack On Academic Schooling 

The Fabian Spirit 

The Open Conspiracy 

An Everlasting Faith 

Regulating Lives Like Machinery 

The Gary Plan 

The Jewish Student Riots 

The Rockefeller Report 

Obstacles On The Road To Centralization 


A Personal Interlude Chapter Ten 
My Green River 

The great destructive myth of the twentieth century was the aggressive contention that a 
child could not grow up correctly in the unique circumstances of his own family. Forced 
schooling was the principal agency broadcasting this attitude. 

The Character Of A Village 

Singing And Fishing Were Free 

The Greatest Fun Was Watching People Work 

Sitting In The Dark 

I Hung Around A Lot In Monongahela 

Shooting Birds 

On Punishment 



Frances "Bootie" Zimmer 

Walking Around Monongahela 

The College Of Zimmer And Hegel 


Metamorphosis Chapter Eleven 

The Crunch 

The experience of global war gave official school reform a grand taste for what was 
possible. Government intervention was proclaimed the antidote for all dissent. In every 
nook and cranny of American life new social organizations flourished, all feeding on 
intervention into personal sovereignty and family life. A new republic was here at last 
just as Herbert Croly announced, and government school was its church. 

The Struggle For Homogeneity 

Eugenics Arrives 

Mr. Hitler Reads Mr. Ford 

Racial Suicide 

The Passing Of The Great Race 

The Poison Of Democracy 

The American Protective League 

Guaranteed Customers 

Industrial Efficiency 

High Pressure Salesmanship 

A New Collectivism 

Chapter Twelve 

Daughters Of The Barons 
of Runnemede 

The new compulsion-school institution was assigned the task of fixing the social order 
into place, albeit with the cautions of Pareto and Mosca kept in mind. Society was to 
reflect the needs of modern corporate organization and the requirements of rational 
evolution. The best breeding stock had to be protected and displayed. The supreme 
challenge was to specify who was who in the new hierarchical order. 

The Scientifically Humane Future 

Exclusive Heredity 

Divinely Appointed Intelligence 

The Paxton Boys 

Soldiers For Their Class 

Organizing Caste 

Your Family Tree 

The Fatal Sound Shift 

Our Manifest Destiny 

The Lost Tribes 

Unpopular Government 

Kinship Is Mythical 

The Machine Gun Builds Hotchkiss 

Fountains Of Business Wealth 

The General Education Board And Friends 

Chapter Thirteen 

The Empty Child 

The basic hypothesis of utopia-building is that the structure of personhood can be broken 
and reformed again and again. The notion of empty children was the most important 
concept which inspired social architects and engineers to believe that schools could 
indeed be remade into socialization laboratories. 

Miss Skinner Sleeps Scientifically 




Emptiness: The Master Theory 

A Metaphysical Commitment 

The Limits Of Behavioral Theory 

Reality Engages The Banana 

Programming The Empty Child 

Dr. Watson Presumes 

Cleaning The Canvas 

Therapy As Curriculum 

The New Thought Tide 

To Abolish Thinking 


Napoleon Of Mind Science 

• What Is Sanity? 

• Bending The Student To Reality 

• Paying Children To Learn 

Chapter Fourteen 

Absolute Absolution 

God was pitched out of forced schooling on his ear after WWII. This wasn't because of 
any constitutional proscription — there was none that anyone had been able to find in over 
a century and a half — but because the political state and corporate economy considered 
the Western spiritual tradition too dangerous a competitor. And it is. 

The Problem Of God 

Spirits Are Dangerous 

Foundations Of The Western Outlook 

Codes Of Meaning 

The Scientific Curriculum 

Everson v. Board of Education (1947) 


The Dalai Lama And The Genius Of The West 

Religion And Rationality 

The Illusion Of Punishment 

Chapter Fifteen 

The Psychopathology Of Everyday Schooling 

None of the familiar school sequences is defensible according to the rules of evidence, all 
are arbitrary; most grounded in superstition or aesthetic prejudice of one sort or another. 
Pestalozzi's basic "Simple to Complex" formulation, for instance, is a prescription for 
disaster in the classroom. 

An Arena Of Dishonesty 

The Game Is Crooked 

Psychopathic Programming 

What Really Goes On 

Pathology As A Natural Byproduct 

A Critical Appraisal 

Vox Populi 

The Systems Idea In Action 

Chapter Sixteen 

A Conspiracy Against Ourselves 

Spare yourself the anxiety of thinking of this school thing as a conspiracy, even though 
the project is indeed riddled with petty conspirators. It was and is a fully rational 
transaction in which all of us play a part. We trade the liberty of our kids and our free will 

for a secure social order and a very prosperous economy. It's a bargain in which most of 
us agree to become as children ourselves, under the same tutelage which holds the young, 
in exchange for food, entertainment, and safety. The difficulty is that the contract fixes 
the goal of human life so low that students go mad trying to escape it. 

Two Social Revolutions Become One 
The Fear Of Common Intelligence 
The Cult Of Forced Schooling 
Disinherited Men And Women 
Serving The Imperial Virus 
Quill-Driving Babus 
The Release From Tutelage 

Chapter Seventeen 

The Politics Of Schooling 

At the heart of the durability of mass schooling is a brilliantly designed power 
fragmentation system which distributes decision-making so widely among so many 
warring interests that large-scale change is impossible without a guidebook. Few insiders 
understand how to steer this ship and the few who do may have lost the will to control it. 

Three Holes In My Floor 

Power + 22 


I'm A Flunky, So's My Kid 

It's Not Your Money 

A Billion, Six For KC 

Education's Most Powerful Voice 

Letter To The Editor 

Letter To The Principal 

Who Controls American Education? 

The Logical Tragedy Of Benson, Vermont 

Natural Selection 

The Great Transformation 


Freud's Nephew 

Magic At Work 

The Culture Of Big Business 

Four Kinds Of Classroom 

The Planetary Management Corporation 

Chapter Eighteen 

Breaking Out Of The Trap 

The only conceivable way to break out of this trap is to repudiate any further 
centralization of schooling in the form of national goals, national tests, national teaching 

licenses, school-to-work plans, and the rest of the Utopian package which accompanies 
these. Schooling must be unsystematized, the system must be put to death. Adam Smith 
has correctly instructed us for more than two centuries now that the wealth of nations is 
the product of freedom, not of tutelage. The connection between the corporate economy, 
national politics, and schooling is a disease of collectivism which must be broken if 
children are to become sovereign, creative adults, capable of lifting a free society to 
unimaginable heights. The rational manage- ment model has damaged the roots of a free 
society and the free market it claims to defend. 

Silicon Valley 

Deregulating Opportunity 

Selling From Your Truck 

Mudsill Theory 

Autonomous Technology 

The Bell Curve 

George Meegan 

Necking In The Guardhouse 

Tania Aebi 

A Fool's Bargain 

Roland Legiardi-Laura 

The Squeeze 

Wendy Zeigler/Amy Halpern 

A Magnificent Memory 

Prince Charles Visits Steel Valley High 

Empty Children 


Almost The End 

I Would Prefer Not To 

Nuts And Bolts 


What has happened in our schools was foreseen long ago by Jefferson. We have been 
recolonized silently in a second American Revolution. Time to take our script from this 
country's revolutionary start, time to renew traditional hostility toward hierarchy and 
tutelage. We became a unique nation from the bottom up, that is the only way to rebuild a 
worthy concept of education. 

About The Books I Used 



About The Author 

Bianca, You Animal, Shut Up! 

Our problem in understanding forced schooling stems from an inconvenient fact: that the 
wrong it does from a human perspective is right from a systems perspective. You can see 
this in the case of six-year-old Bianca, who came to my attention because an assistant 
principal screamed at her in front of an assembly, "BIANCA, YOU ANIMAL, SHUT 
UP!" Like the wail of a banshee, this sang the school doom of Bianca. Even though her 
body continued to shuffle around, the voodoo had poisoned her. 

Do I make too much of this simple act of putting a little girl in her place? It must happen 
thousands of times every day in schools all over. I've seen it many times, and if I were 
painfully honest I'd admit to doing it many times. Schools are supposed to teach kids 
their place. That's why we have age-graded classes. In any case, it wasn't your own little 
Janey or mine. 

Most of us tacitly accept the pragmatic terms of public school which allow every kind of 
psychic violence to be inflicted on Bianca in order to fulfill the prime directive of the 
system: putting children in their place. It's called "social efficiency." But I get this 
precognition, this flash-forward to a moment far in the future when your little girl Jane, 
having left her comfortable home, wakes up to a world where Bianca is her enraged 
meter maid, or the passport clerk Jane counts on for her emergency ticket out of the 
country, or the strange lady who lives next door. 

I picture this animal Bianca grown large and mean, the same Bianca who didn't go to 
school for a month after her little friends took to whispering, "Bianca is an animal, 
Bianca is an animal," while Bianca, only seconds earlier a human being like themselves, 
sat choking back tears, struggling her way through a reading selection by guessing what 
the words meant. 

In my dream I see Bianca as a fiend manufactured by schooling who now regards Janey 
as a vehicle for vengeance. In a transport of passion she: 

1 . Gives Jane's car a ticket before the meter runs out. 

2. Throws away Jane's passport application after Jane leaves the office. 

3. Plays heavy metal music through the thin partition which separates Bianca's 
apartment from Jane's while Jane pounds frantically on the wall for relief. 

4. All the above. 

You aren't compelled to loan your car to anyone who wants it, but you are compelled to 
surrender your school-age child to strangers who process children for a livelihood, even 
though one in every nine schoolchildren is terrified of physical harm happening to them 
in school, terrified with good cause; about thirty-three are murdered there every year. 
From 1992 through 1999, 262 children were murdered in school in the United States. 
Your great-great-grandmother didn't have to surrender her children. What happened? 

If I demanded you give up your television to an anonymous, itinerant repairman who 
needed work you'd think I was crazy; if I came with a policeman who forced you to pay 
that repairman even after he broke your set, you would be outraged. Why are you so 
docile when you give up your child to a government agent called a schoolteacher? 

I want to open up concealed aspects of modern schooling such 
as the deterioration it forces in the morality of parenting. You 
have no say at all in choosing your teachers. You know 
nothing about their backgrounds or families. And the state 
knows little more than you do. This is as radical a piece of 
social engineering as the human imagination can conceive. 
What does it mean? 

One thing you do know is how unlikely it will be for any 
teacher to understand the personality of your particular child or 
anything significant about your family, culture, religion, plans, hopes, dreams. In the 
confusion of school affairs even teachers so disposed don't have opportunity to know 
those things. How did this happen? 

Before you hire a company to build a house, you would, I expect, insist on detailed plans 
showing what the finished structure was going to look like. Building a child's mind and 
character is what public schools do, their justification for prematurely breaking family 
and neighborhood learning. Where is documentary evidence to prove this assumption that 
trained and certified professionals do it better than people who know and love them can? 
There isn't any. 

The cost in New York State for building a well-schooled child in the year 2000 is 
$200,000 per body when lost interest is calculated. That capital sum invested in the 
child's name over the past twelve years would have delivered a million dollars to each 
kid as a nest egg to compensate for having no school. The original $200,000 is more than 
the average home in New York costs. You wouldn't build a home without some idea 
what it would look like when finished, but you are compelled to let a corps of perfect 
strangers tinker with your child's mind and personality without the foggiest idea what 
they want to do with it. 

Law courts and legislatures have totally absolved school people from liability. You can 
sue a doctor for malpractice, not a schoolteacher. Every homebuilder is accountable to 
customers years after the home is built; not schoolteachers, though. You can't sue a 
priest, minister, or rabbi either; that should be a clue. 

If you can't be guaranteed even minimal results by these institutions, not even physical 
safety; if you can't be guaranteed anything except that you'll be arrested if you fail to 
surrender your kid, just what does the public in public schools mean? 

What exactly is public about public schools? That's a question to take seriously. If 
schools were public as libraries, parks, and swimming pools are public, as highways and 
sidewalks are public, then the public would be satisfied with them most of the time. 
Instead, a situation of constant dissatisfaction has spanned many decades. Only in 
Orwell's Newspeak, as perfected by legendary spin doctors of the twentieth century such 
as Ed Bernays or Ivy Lee or great advertising combines, is there anything public about 
public schools. 

I Quit, I Think 

In the first year of the last decade of the twentieth century 
during my thirtieth year as a school teacher in Community 
School District 3, Manhattan, after teaching in all five 
secondary schools in the district, crossing swords with one 
professional administration after another as they strove to 
rid themselves of me, after having my license suspended 
twice for insubordination and terminated covertly once 
while I was on medical leave of absence, after the City 
University of New York borrowed me for a five-year stint 
as a lecturer in the Education Department (and the faculty 
rating handbook published by the Student Council gave 
me the highest ratings in the department my last three years), after planning and bringing 
about the most successful permanent school fund-raiser in New York City history, after 
placing a single eighth-grade class into 30,000 hours of volunteer community service, 
after organizing and financing a student-run food cooperative, after securing over a 
thousand apprenticeships, directing the collection of tens of thousands of books for the 
construction of private student libraries, after producing four talking job dictionaries for 
the blind, writing two original student musicals, and launching an armada of other 
initiatives to reintegrate students within a larger human reality, I quit. 

I was New York State Teacher of the Year when it happened. An accumulation of disgust 
and frustration which grew too heavy to be borne finally did me in. To test my resolve I 
sent a short essay to The Wall Street Journal titled "I Quit, I Think." In it I explained my 
reasons for deciding to wrap it up, even though I had no savings and not the slightest idea 
what else I might do in my mid-fifties to pay the rent. In its entirety it read like this: 

Government schooling is the most radical adventure in history. It 
kills the family by monopolizing the best times of childhood and 
by teaching disrespect for home and parents. The whole blueprint 
of school procedure is Egyptian, not Greek or Roman. It grows 

from the theological idea that human value is a scarce thing, 
represented symbolically by the narrow peak of a pyramid. 

That idea passed into American history through the Puritans. It 
found its "scientific" presentation in the bell curve, along which 
talent supposedly apportions itself by some Iron Law of Biology. 
It's a religious notion, School is its church. I offer rituals to keep 
heresy at bay. I provide documentation to justify the heavenly 

Socrates foresaw if teaching became a formal profession, 
something like this would happen. Professional interest is served 
by making what is easy to do seem hard; by subordinating the 
laity to the priesthood. School is too vital a jobs-project, contract 
giver and protector of the social order to allow itself to be "re- 
formed." It has political allies to guard its marches, that's why 
reforms come and go without changing much. Even reformers 
can't imagine school much different. 

David learns to read at age four; Rachel, at age nine: In normal 
development, when both are 13, you can't tell which one learned 
first — the five-year spread means nothing at all. But in school I 
label Rachel "learning disabled" and slow David down a bit, too. 
For a paycheck, I adjust David to depend on me to tell him when 
to go and stop. He won't outgrow that dependency. I identify 
Rachel as discount merchandise, "special education" fodder. 
She'll be locked in her place forever. 

In 30 years of teaching kids rich and poor I almost never met a 
learning disabled child; hardly ever met a gifted and talented one 
either. Like all school categories, these are sacred myths, created 
by human imagination. They derive from questionable values we 
never examine because they preserve the temple of schooling. 

That's the secret behind short-answer tests, bells, uniform time 
blocks, age grading, standardization, and all the rest of the school 
religion punishing our nation. There isn't a right way to become 
educated; there are as many ways as fingerprints. We don't need 
state-certified teachers to make education happen — that probably 
guarantees it won't. 

How much more evidence is necessary? Good schools don't need 
more money or a longer year; they need real free-market choices, 
variety that speaks to every need and runs risks. We don't need a 
national curriculum or national testing either. Both initiatives 
arise from ignorance of how people learn or deliberate 

indifference to it. I can't teach this way any longer. If you hear of 
a job where I don't have to hurt kids to make a living, let me 
know. Come fall I'll be looking for work. 

The New Individualism 

The little essay went off in March and I forgot it. Somewhere along the way I must have 
gotten a note saying it would be published at the editor's discretion, but if so, it was 
quickly forgotten in the press of turbulent feelings that accompanied my own internal 
struggle. Finally, on July 5, 1991, 1 swallowed hard and quit. Twenty days later the 
Journal published the piece. A week later I was studying invitations to speak at NASA 
Space Center, the Western White House, the Nashville Center for the Arts, Columbia 
Graduate Business School, the Colorado Librarian's Convention, Apple Computer, and 
the financial control board of United Technologies Corporation. Nine years later, still 
enveloped in the orbit of compulsion schooling, I had spoken 750 times in fifty states and 
seven foreign countries. I had no agent and never advertised, but a lot of people made an 
effort to find me. It was as if parents were starving for someone to tell them the truth. 

My hunch is it wasn't so much what I was saying 
that kept the lecture round unfolding, but that a 
teacher was speaking out at all and the curious fact 
that I represented nobody except myself. In the 
great school debate, this is unheard of. Every single 
voice allowed regular access to the national podium 
is the mouthpiece of some association, corporation, 
university, agency, or institutionalized cause. The 
poles of debate blocked out by these ritualized, 
figurehead voices are extremely narrow. Each has a 
stake in continuing forced schooling much as it is. 

As I traveled, I discovered a universal hunger, often unvoiced, to be free of managed 
debate. A desire to be given untainted information. Nobody seemed to have maps of 
where this thing had come from or why it acted as it did, but the ability to smell a rat was 
alive and well all over America. 

Exactly what John Dewey heralded at the onset of the twentieth century has indeed 
happened. Our once highly individualized nation has evolved into a centrally managed 
village, an agora made up of huge special interests which regard individual voices as 
irrelevant. The masquerade is managed by having collective agencies speak through 
particular human beings. Dewey said this would mark a great advance in human affairs, 
but the net effect is to reduce men and women to the status of functions in whatever 
subsystem they are placed. Public opinion is turned on and off in laboratory fashion. All 
this in the name of social efficiency, one of the two main goals of forced schooling. 

Dewey called this transformation "the new individualism." When I stepped into the job of 
schoolteacher in 1961, the new individualism was sitting in the driver's seat all over 

urban America, a far cry from my own school days on the Monongahela when the Lone 
Ranger, not Sesame Street, was our nation's teacher, and school things weren't nearly so 
oppressive. But gradually they became something else in the euphoric times following 
WWII. Easy money and easy travel provided welcome relief from wartime austerity, the 
advent of television, the new nonstop theater, offered easy laughs, effortless 
entertainment. Thus preoccupied, Americans failed to notice the deliberate conversion of 
formal education that was taking place, a transformation that would turn school into an 
instrument of the leviathan state. Who made that happen and why is part of the story I 
have to tell. 

School As Religion 

Nothing about school is what it seems, not even boredom. To show you what I mean is 
the burden of this long essay. My book represents a try at arranging my own thoughts in 
order to figure out what fifty years of classroom confinement (as student and teacher) add 
up to for me. You'll encounter a great deal of speculative history here. This is a personal 
investigation of why school is a dangerous place. It's not so much that anyone there sets 
out to hurt children; more that all of us associated with the institution are stuck like flies 
in the same great web your kids are. We buzz frantically to cover our own panic but have 
little power to help smaller flies. 

Looking backward on a thirty-year teaching career full of rewards and prizes, somehow I 
can't completely believe that I spent my time on earth institutionalized; I can't believe 
that centralized schooling is allowed to exist at all as a gigantic indoctrination and sorting 
machine, robbing people of their children. Did it really happen? Was this my life? God 
help me. 

School is a religion. Without understanding the holy mission aspect you're certain to 
misperceive what takes place as a result of human stupidity or venality or even class 
warfare. All are present in the equation, it's just that none of these matter very much — 
even without them school would move in the same direction. Dewey's Pedagogic Creed 
statement of 1 897 gives you a clue to the Zeitgeist: 

Every teacher should realize he is a social servant set apart for the maintenance of 
the proper social order and the securing of the right social growth. In this way the 
teacher is always the prophet of the true God and the usherer in of the true kingdom 
of heaven. 

What is "proper" social order? What does "right" social growth look like? If you don't 
know you're like me, not like John Dewey who did, or the Rockefellers, his patrons, who 
did, too. 

Somehow out of the industrial confusion which followed the Civil War, powerful men 
and dreamers became certain what kind of social order America needed, one very like the 
British system we had escaped a hundred years earlier. This realization didn't arise as a 
product of public debate as it should have in a democracy, but as a distillation of private 

discussion. Their ideas contradicted the original American charter but that didn't disturb 
them. They had a stupendous goal in mind — the rationalization of everything. The end of 
unpredictable history; its transformation into dependable order. 

From mid-century onwards certain Utopian schemes to retard maturity in the interests of a 
greater good were put into play, following roughly the blueprint Rousseau laid down in 
the book Emile. At least rhetorically. The first goal, to be reached in stages, was an 
orderly, scientifically managed society, one in which the best people would make the 
decisions, unhampered by democratic tradition. After that, human breeding, the 
evolutionary destiny of the species, would be in reach. Universal institutionalized formal 
forced schooling was the prescription, extending the dependency of the young well into 
what had traditionally been early adult life. Individuals would be prevented from taking 
up important work until a relatively advanced age. Maturity was to be retarded. 

During the post-Civil War period, childhood was extended about four years. Later, a 
special label was created to describe very old children. It was called adolescence, a 
phenomenon hitherto unknown to the human race. The infantilization of young people 
didn't stop at the beginning of the twentieth century; child labor laws were extended to 
cover more and more kinds of work, the age of school leaving set higher and higher. The 
greatest victory for this Utopian project was making school the only avenue to certain 
occupations. The intention was ultimately to draw all work into the school net. By the 
1950s it wasn't unusual to find graduate students well into their thirties, running errands, 
waiting to start their lives. 

He Was Square Inside And Brown 

Barbara Whiteside showed me a poem written by a high school senior in Alton, Illinois, 
two weeks before he committed suicide: 

He drew... the things inside that needed saying. 
Beautiful pictures he kept under his pillow. 
When he started school he brought them... 
To have along like a friend. 

It was funny about school, he sat at a square brown 
desk Like all the other square brown desks... and his 
room Was a square brown room like all the other 
rooms, tight And close and stiff. 

He hated to hold the pencil and chalk, his arms stiff 
His feet flat on the floor, stiff, the teacher watching 
And watching. She told him to wear a tie like 
All the other boys, he said he didn't like them. 
She said it didn't matter what he liked. After that the 
class drew. 

He drew all yellow. It was the way he felt about 
Morning. The Teacher came and smiled, "What's 


Why don't you draw something like Ken's 


After that his mother bought him a tie, and he 

always Drew airplanes and rocketships like 

everyone else. 

He was square inside and brown and his hands were 

stiff. The things inside that needed saying didn't 

need it 

Anymore, they had stopped pushing... crushed, stiff 

Like everything else. 

After I spoke in Nashville, a mother named Debbie pressed a handwritten note on me 
which I read on the airplane to Binghamton, New York: 

We started to see Brandon flounder in the first grade, hives, 
depression, he cried every night after he asked his father, 
"Is tomorrow school, too?" In second grade the physical 
stress became apparent. The teacher pronounced his 
problem Attention Deficit Syndrome. My happy, bouncy 
child was now looked at as a medical problem, by us as 
well as the school. 

A doctor, a psychiatrist, and a school authority all 

determined he did have this affliction. Medication was 

stressed along with behavior modification. If it was 

suspected that Brandon had not been medicated he was sent 

home. My square peg needed a bit of whittling to fit their round hole, it seemed. 

I cried as I watched my parenting choices stripped away. My ignorance of options 
allowed Brandon to be medicated through second grade. The tears and hives continued 
another full year until I couldn't stand it. I began to homeschool Brandon. It was his 
salvation. No more pills, tears, or hives. He is thriving. He never cries now and does his 
work eagerly. 

The New Dumbness 

Ordinary people send their children to school to get smart, but what modern schooling 
teaches is dumbness. It's a religious idea gone out of control. You don't have to accept 
that, though, to realize this kind of economy would be jeopardized by too many smart 
people who understand too much. I won't ask you to take that on faith. Be patient. I'll let 
a famous American publisher explain to you the secret of our global financial success in 
just a little while. Be patient. 

Old-fashioned dumbness used to be simple ignorance; now it is transformed from 
ignorance into permanent mathematical categories of relative stupidity like "gifted and 
talented," "mainstream," "special ed." Categories in which learning is rationed for the 
good of a system of order. Dumb people are no longer merely ignorant. Now they are 
indoctrinated, their minds conditioned with substantial doses of commercially prepared 
disinformation dispensed for tranquilizing purposes. 

Jacques Ellul, whose book Propaganda is a reflection on the phenomenon, warned us 
that prosperous children are more susceptible than others to the effects of schooling 
because they are promised more lifelong comfort and security for yielding wholly: 

Critical judgment disappears altogether, for in no 
way can there ever be collective critical 
judgment. ...The individual can no longer judge for 
himself because he inescapably relates his thoughts 
to the entire complex of values and prejudices 
established by propaganda. With regard to political 
situations, he is given ready-made value judgments 
invested with the power of the truth by... the word of 

The new dumbness is particularly deadly to middle- and 
upper-middle-class kids already made shallow by multiple 
pressures to conform imposed by the outside world on their 
usually lightly rooted parents. When they come of age, they 
are certain they must know something because their 
degrees and licenses say they do. They remain so 
convinced until an unexpectedly brutal divorce, a corporate 
downsizing in midlife, or panic attacks of meaninglessness 
upset the precarious balance of their incomplete humanity, 
their stillborn adult lives. Alan Bullock, the English historian, said Evil was a state of 
incompetence. If true, our school adventure has filled the twentieth century with evil. 

Ellul puts it this way: 

The individual has no chance to exercise his 
judgment either on principal questions or on their 
implication; this leads to the atrophy of a faculty not 
comfortably exercised under [the best of] 
conditions. ..Once personal judgment and critical 
faculties have disappeared or have atrophied, they 
will not simply reappear when propaganda is 
suppressed... years of intellectual and spiritual 
education would be needed to restore such faculties. 
The propagandee, if deprived of one propaganda, 

will immediately adopt another, this will spare him 
the agony of finding himself vis a vis some event 
without a ready-made opinion. 

Once the best children are broken to such a system, they disintegrate morally, becoming 
dependent on group approval. A National Merit Scholar in my own family once wrote 
that her dream was to be "a small part in a great machine." It broke my heart. What kids 
dumbed down by schooling can't do is to think for themselves or ever be at rest for very 
long without feeling crazy; stupefied boys and girls reveal dependence in many ways 
easily exploitable by their knowledgeable elders. 

According to all official analysis, dumbness isn't taught (as I claim), but is innate in a 
great percentage of what has come to be called "the workforce." Workforce itself is a 
term that should tell you much about the mind that governs modern society. According to 
official reports, only a small fraction of the population is capable of what you and I call 
mental life: creative thought, analytical thought, judgmental thought, a trio occupying the 
three highest positions on Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Just how small 
a fraction would shock you. According to experts, the bulk of the mob is hopelessly 
dumb, even dangerously so. Perhaps you're a willing accomplice to this social coup 
which revived the English class system. Certainly you are if your own child has been 
rewarded with a "gifted and talented" label by your local school. This is what Dewey 
means by "proper" social order. 

If you believe nothing can be done for the dumb except kindness, because it's biology 
(the bell-curve model); if you believe capitalist oppressors have ruined the dumb because 
they are bad people (the neo-Marxist model); if you believe dumbness reflects depraved 
moral fiber (the Calvinist model); or that it's nature's way of disqualifying boobies from 
the reproduction sweepstakes (the Darwinian model); or nature's way of providing 
someone to clean your toilet (the pragmatic elitist model); or that it's evidence of bad 
karma (the Buddhist model); if you believe any of the various explanations given for the 
position of the dumb in the social order we have, then you will be forced to concur that a 
vast bureaucracy is indeed necessary to address the dumb. Otherwise they would murder 
us in our beds. 

The shocking possibility that dumb people don't exist in sufficient 
numbers to warrant the careers devoted to tending to them will seem 
incredible to you. Yet that is my proposition: Mass dumbness first 
had to be imagined; it isn't real. 

Once the dumb are wished into existence, they serve valuable 
functions: as a danger to themselves and others they have to be 
watched, classified, disciplined, trained, medicated, sterilized, 
ghettoized, cajoled, coerced, jailed. To idealists they represent a 
challenge, reprobates to be made socially useful. Either way you 
want it, hundreds of millions of perpetual children require paid 

attention from millions of adult custodians. An ignorant horde to be schooled one way or 

Putting Pedagogy To The Question 

More than anything else, this book is a work of intuition. The official 
story of why we school doesn't add up today any more than it did 
yesterday. A few years before I quit, I began to try to piece together 
where this school project came from, why it took the shape it took, and 
why every attempt to change it has ended in abysmal failure. 

By now I've invested the better part of a decade looking for answers. 
If you want a conventional history of schooling, or education as it is 
carelessly called, you'd better stop reading now. Although years of 
research in the most arcane sources are reflected here, throughout it's 
mainly intuition that drives my synthesis. 

■ 111. ll^_k «4,Ll 


This is in part a private narrative, the map of a schoolteacher's mind as it tracked strands 
in the web in which it had been wrapped; in part a public narrative, an account of the 
latest chapter in an ancient war: the conflict between systems which offer physical safety 
and certainty at the cost of suppressing free will, and those which offer liberty at the price 
of constant risk. If you keep both plots in mind, no matter how far afield my book seems 
to range, you won't wonder what a chapter on coal or one on private hereditary societies 
has to do with schoolchildren. 

What I'm most determined to do is start a conversation among those who've been silent 
up until now, and that includes schoolteachers. We need to put sterile discussions of 
grading and testing, discipline, curriculum, multiculturalism and tracking aside as 
distractions, as mere symptoms of something larger, darker, and more intransigent than 
any problem a problem-solver could tackle next week. Talking endlessly about such 
things encourages the bureaucratic tactic of talking around the vital, messy stuff. In 
partial compensation for your effort, I promise you'll discover what's in the mind of a 
man who spent his life in a room with children. 

Give an ear, then, to what follows. We shall cross-examine history together. We shall put 
pedagogy to the question. And if the judgment following this auto dafe is that only pain 
can make this monster relax its grip, let us pray together for the courage to inflict it. 

Reading my essay will help you sort things out. It will give you a different topological 
map upon which to fix your own position. No doubt I've made some factual mistakes, but 
essays since Montaigne have been about locating truth, not about assembling facts. Truth 
and fact aren't the same thing. My essay is meant to mark out crudely some ground for a 
scholarship of schooling, my intention is that you not continue to regard the official 
project of education through an older, traditional perspective, but to see it as a frightening 
chapter in the administrative organization of knowledge — a text we must vigorously 
repudiate as our ancestors once did. We live together, you and I, in a dark time when all 

official history is propaganda. If you want truth, you have to struggle for it. This is my 
struggle. Let me bear witness to what I have seen. 

Author's Note 

With conspiracy so close to the surface of the American imagination and American 
reality, I can only approach with trepidation the task of discouraging you in advance from 
thinking my book the chronicle of some vast diabolical conspiracy to seize all our 
children for the personal ends of a small, elite minority. 

Don't get me wrong, American schooling has been replete with chicanery from its very 

Indeed, it isn't difficult to find various conspirators boasting in public about what they 
pulled off. But if you take that tack you'll miss the real horror of what I'm trying to 
describe, that what has happened to our schools was inherent in the original design for a 
planned economy and a planned society laid down so proudly at the end of the nineteenth 
century. I think what happened would have happened anyway — without the legions of 
venal, half-mad men and women who schemed so hard to make it as it is. If I'm correct, 
we're in a much worse position than we would be if we were merely victims of an evil 
genius or two. 

If you obsess about conspiracy, what you'll fail to see is that we are held fast by a form of 
highly abstract thinking fully concretized in human institutions which has grown beyond 
the power of the managers of these institutions to control. If there is a way out of the trap 
we're in, it won't be by removing some bad guys and replacing them with good guys. 

Who are the villains, really, but ourselves? People can change, but systems cannot 
without losing their structural integrity. Even Henry Ford, a Jew-baiter of such colossal 
proportions he was lionized by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf, made a public apology and 
denied to his death he had ever intended to hurt Jews — a too strict interpretation of 
Darwin made him do it! The great industrialists who gave us modern compulsion 
schooling inevitably found their own principles subordinated to systems-purposes, just as 
happened to the rest of us. 

Take Andrew Carnegie, the bobbin boy, who would certainly have been as appalled as 
the rest of us at the order to fire on strikers at his Homestead plant. But the system he 
helped to create was committed to pushing men until they reacted violently or dropped 
dead. It was called "the Iron Law of Wages." Once his colleagues were interested in the 
principles of the Iron Law, they could only see the courage and defiance of the 
Homestead strikers as an opportunity to provoke a crisis which would allow the steel 
union to be broken with state militia and public funds. Crushing opposition is the 
obligatory scene in the industrial drama, whatever it takes, and no matter how much 
individual industrial leaders like Carnegie might be reluctant to do so. 

My worry was about finding a prominent ally to help me present this idea that inhuman 
anthropology is what we confront in our institutional schools, not conspiracy. The hunt 
paid off with the discovery of an analysis of the Ludlow Massacre by Walter Lippmann 
in the New Republic of January 30, 1915. Following the Rockefeller slaughter of up to 
forty-seven, mostly women and children, in the tent camp of striking miners at Ludlow, 
Colorado, a congressional investigation was held which put John D. Rockefeller Jr. on 
the defensive. Rockefeller agents had employed armored cars, machine guns, and fire 
bombs in his name. As Lippmann tells it, Rockefeller was charged with having the only 
authority to authorize such a massacre, but also with too much indifference to what his 
underlings were up to. "Clearly," said the industrial magnate, "both cannot be true." 

As Lippmann recognized, this paradox is the worm at the core of all colossal power. Both 
indeed could be true. For ten years Rockefeller hadn't even seen this property; what he 
knew of it came in reports from his managers he scarcely could have read along with 
mountains of similar reports coming to his desk each day. He was compelled to rely on 
the word of others. Drawing an analogy between Rockefeller and the czar of Russia, 
Lippmann wrote that nobody believed the czar himself performed the many despotic acts 
he was accused of; everyone knew a bureaucracy did so in his name. But most failed to 
push that knowledge to its inevitable conclusion: If the czar tried to change what was 
customary he would be undermined by his subordinates. He had no defense against this 
happening because it was in the best interests of all the divisions of the bureaucracy, 
including the army, that it — not the czar — continue to be in charge of things. The czar 
was a prisoner of his own subjects. In Lippmann 's words: 

This seemed to be the predicament of Mr. 
Rockefeller. I should not believe he personally hired 
thugs or wanted them hired. It seems far more true to 
say that his impersonal and half-understood power 
has delegated itself into unsocial forms, that it has 
assumed a life of its own which he is almost 
powerless to control.... His intellectual helplessness 
was the amazing part of his testimony. Here was a 
man who represented wealth probably without 
parallel in history, the successor to a father who has, 
with justice, been called the high priest of 
capitalism.... Yet he talked about himself on the 
commonplace moral assumptions of a small 

The Rockefeller Foundation has been instrumental through the century just passed (along 
with a few others) in giving us the schools we have. It imported the German research 
model into college life, elevated service to business and government as the goal of higher 
education, not teaching. And Rockefeller- financed University of Chicago and Columbia 
Teachers College have been among the most energetic actors in the lower school tragedy. 
There is more, too, but none of it means the Rockefeller family "masterminded" the 
school institution, or even that his foundation or his colleges did. All became in time 

submerged in the system they did so much to create, almost helpless to slow its 
momentum even had they so desired. 

Despite its title, Underground History isn't a history proper, but a collection of materials 
toward a history, embedded in a personal essay analyzing why mass compulsion 
schooling is unreformable. The history I have unearthed is important to our 
understanding; it's a good start, I believe, but much remains undone. The burden of an 
essay is to reveal its author so candidly and thoroughly that the reader comes fully awake. 
You are about to spend twenty- five to thirty hours with the mind of a schoolteacher, but 
the relationship we should have isn't one of teacher to pupil but rather that of two people 
in conversation. I'll offer ideas and a theory to explain things and you bring your own 
experience to bear on the matters, supplementing and arguing where necessary. Read 
with this goal before you and I promise your money's worth. It isn't important whether 
we agree on every detail. 

A brief word on sources. I've identified all quotations and paraphrases and given the 
origin of many (not all) individual facts, but for fear the forest be lost in contemplation of 
too many trees, I've avoided extensive footnoting. So much here is my personal take on 
things that it seemed dishonest to grab you by the lapels that way: of minor value to those 
who already resonate on the wavelength of the book, useless, even maddening, to those 
who do not. 

This is a workshop of solutions as well as an attempt to frame the problem clearly, but be 
warned: they are perversely sprinkled around like raisins in a pudding, nowhere grouped 
neatly as if to help you study for a test — except for a short list at the very end. The advice 
there is practical, but strictly limited to the world of compulsion schooling as it currently 
exists, not to the greater goal of understanding how education occurs or is prevented. The 
best advice in this book is scattered throughout and indirect, you'll have to work to 
extract it. It begins with the very first sentence of the book where I remind you that what 
is right for systems is often wrong for human beings. Translated into a recommendation, 
that means that to avoid the revenge of Bianca, we must be prepared to insult systems for 
the convenience of humanity, not the other way around. 


*For instance, for those of you who believe in testing, school superintendents as a class are virtually the stupidest people to pass through a 
graduate college program, ranking fifty-one points below the elementary school teachers they normally "supervice," (on the Graduate Record 
Examination), abd about eighty points below secondary-school teachers, while teachers themselves as an aggregate finish seventeenth of 
twenty occupational groups surveyed. The reader is of course at liberty to believe this happened accidentally, or that the moon is composed of 
blue, not green, cheese as is popularly believed. It's also possible to take this anomaly as conclusive evidence of the irrelevance of standardized 
testing. Your choice. 


The Way It Used To Be 

Whoever controls the image and information of the past determines what and how future 
generations will think; whoever controls the information and images of the present 
determines how those same people will view the past. 

— George Orwell, 1984 (1949) 

Take at hazard one hundred children of several educated generations and one hundred 
uneducated children of the people and compare them in anything you please; in strength, 
in agility, in mind, in the ability to acquire knowledge, even in morality — and in all 
respects you are startled by the vast superiority on the side of the children of the 

— Count Leo Tolstoy, "Education and Children" (1862) 

A Nation From The Bottom Up 


Fifty children of different ages are teaching each other while the schoolmaster hears 
lessons at his desk from older students. An air of quiet activity fills the room. A wood 
stove crackles in the corner. What drove the nineteenth-century school world celebrated 
in Edward Eggleston's classic, The Hoosier Schoolmaster, was a society rich with 
concepts like duty, hard work, responsibility, and self-reliance; a society overwhelmingly 
local in orientation although never so provincial it couldn't be fascinated by the foreign 
and exotic. But when tent Chautauqua with its fanfare about modern marvels left town, 
conversation readily returned to the text of local society. 

Eggleston's America was a special place in modern history, one where the society was 
more central than the national political state. Words can't adequately convey the 
stupendous radicalism hidden in our quiet villages, a belief that ordinary people have a 
right to govern themselves. A confidence that they can. 

Most revolutionary of all was the conviction that personal rights can only be honored 
when the political state is kept weak. In the classical dichotomy between liberty and 
subordination written into our imagination by Locke and Hobbes in the seventeenth 
century, America struggled down the libertarian road of Locke for awhile while her three 
godfather nations, England, Germany, and France, followed Hobbes and established 
leviathan states through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Toward the end, 
America began to follow the Old World's lead. 

For Hobbes, social order depended upon state control of the inner life, a degree of mental 
colonization unknown to the tyrants of history whose principal concern had been 

controlling the bodies of their subjects. But the sheer size of an America without national 
roads or electronic networks ensured that liberty would be nurtured outside the ring of 
government surveillance. Then, too, many Americans came out of the dissenting religious 
sects of England, independent congregations which rejected church-state partnerships. 
The bulk of our population was socially suspect anyway. Even our gentry was second and 
third string by English standards, gentlemen without inheritances, the rest a raggle-taggle 
band of wastrels, criminals, shanghaied boys, poor yeomanry, displaced peasants. 

Benet, the poet, describes our founding stock: 

The disavouched, hard-bitten pack 
Shipped overseas to steal a continent 
with neither shirts nor honor to their back. 

In Last Essays, George Bernanos observes that America, unlike other nations, was built 
from the bottom up. Francis Parkman made the same observation a century earlier. What 
America violently rejected in its early republic was the Anglican "Homily On Obedience" 
set down by English established-church doctrine in the Tudor state of 1562, a doctrine 
likening order in Heaven with the English social order on Earth — fixed and immutable: 

The sun, moon, stars, rainbows, thunder, lightning, clouds, and all the birds of the air do 
keep their order. The earth, trees, seeds, plants, herbs, corn, grass, and all manner of 
beasts keep themselves in order.... Every degree of people in their vocations, callings and 
office has appointed to them their duty and order. 

By 1776 the theocratic Utopia toward which such a principle moves, was well established 
in the Britain of the German Georges, as well as in the three North German states of 
Prussia, Saxony, and Hanover. Together with England, all three were to play an 
important role in twentieth- century forced schooling in America. The same divine clock, 
superficially secularized, was marking time in the interlude of Enlightenment France, the 
pre-revolutionary Utopia which would also have a potent effect on American school 
thought. Hobbes and his doctrine of mental colonization eclipsed Locke everywhere else, 
but not in America. 

You Had To Do It Yourself 

CUT TO Abe Lincoln, by the fireplace in a log house. "An American," Francis Grund 
remarked in 1837, "is almost from his cradle brought up to reflect on his condition, and 
from the time he is able to act, employed with the means of improving it." 

Lincoln, hardly a slouch as writer, speaker, or thinker, packed fifty weeks of formal 
schooling into his entire life over the twelve-year period between 1814 and 1826. Even 
that little seemed a waste of time to his relatives. Unless you want to argue that those few 
weeks made a decisive difference to Abe, we need to look elsewhere for his education. 
Clifton Johnson thinks it happened this way: 

He acquired much of his early education at home. In the evening he would pile sticks of 
dry wood into the brick fireplace. These would blaze up brightly and shed a strong light 
over the room, and the boy would lie down flat on the floor before the hearth with his 
book in front of him. He used to write his arithmetic sums on a large wooden shovel with 
a piece of charcoal. After covering it all over with examples, he would take his jack-knife 
and whittle and scrape the surface clean, ready for more ciphering. Paper was expensive 
and he could not afford a slate. Sometimes when the shovel was not at hand he did his 
figuring on the logs of the house walls and on the doorposts, and other woodwork that 
afforded a surface he could mark on with his charcoal. 

In Lincoln's Illinois and Kentucky, only reading, writing, and ciphering "to the Rule of 
Three" were required of teachers, but in New England the business often attracted 
ambitious young men like Noah Webster, confident and energetic, merely pausing on 
their way to greater things. Adam Gurowski, mid-nineteenth-century traveler in our land, 
took special notice of the superiority of American teachers. Their European brethren 
were, he said, "withered drifters" or "narrowed martinets." 

Young people in America were expected to make something of themselves, not to 
prepare themselves to fit into a pre-established hierarchy. Every foreign commentator 
notes the early training in independence, the remarkable precocity of American youth, 
their assumption of adult responsibility. In his memoir, Tom Nichols, a New Hampshire 
schoolboy in the 1820s, recalls the electrifying air of expectation in early American 

Our teachers constantly stimulated us by the glittering prizes of wealth, honors, offices, 
and distinctions, which were certainly within our reach — there were a hundred avenues to 
wealth and fame opening fair before us if we only chose to learn our lessons. 

Overproduction, overcapacity, would have been an alien concept to that America, 
something redolent of British mercantilism. Our virgin soil and forests undermined the 
stern doctrine of Calvinism by paying dividends to anyone willing to work. As Calvinism 
waned, contrarian attitudes emerged which represented a new American religion. First, 
the conviction that opportunity was available to all; second, that failure was the result of 
deficient character, not predestination or bad placement on a biological bell curve. 

Character flaws could be remedied, but only from the inside. You had to do it yourself 
through courage, determination, honesty, and hard work. Don't discount this as hot air; it 
marks a critical difference between Americans and everyone else. Teachers had a place in 
this process of self-creation, but it was an ambiguous one: anyone could teach, it was 
thought, just as anyone could self-teach. Secular schools, always a peripheral institution, 
were viewed with ambivalence, although teachers were granted some value — if only 
gratitude for giving mother a break. In the southern and middle colonies, teachers were 
often convicts serving out their sentences, their place in the social order caught in this 
advertisement of Washington's day: 

RAN AWAY. A servant man who followed the occupation of Schoolmaster. Much given 
to drinking and gambling. 

Washington's own schoolmaster, "Hobby," was just such a bondsman. Traditional lore 
has it that he laid the foundation for national greatness by whipping the devil out of 
Washington. Whipping and humiliation seem to have always been an eternal staple of 
schooling. Evidence survives from ancient Rome, Montaigne's France, Washington's 
Virginia — or my own high school in western Pennsylvania in the 1950s, where the 
teacher's personalized paddle hung prominently at the entrance to many a classroom, not 
for decoration but for use. The football coach and, if I recall correctly, the algebra teacher 
customized their paddles, using a dry cell battery to fashion devices similar to electrified 
cattle prods. 

Something in the structure of schooling calls forth violence. While latter-day schools 
don't allow energetic physical discipline, certainly they are state-of-the-art laboratories in 
humiliation, as your own experience should remind you. In my first years of teaching I 
was told over and over that humiliation was my best friend, more effective than 
whipping. I witnessed this theory in practice through my time as a teacher. If you were to 
ask me now whether physical or psychological violence does more damage, I would reply 
that slurs, aspersion, formal ranking, insult, and inference are far and away the more 
deadly. Nor does law protect the tongue-lashed. 

Early schools in America were quick with cuff or cane, but local standards demanded 
fairness. Despotic teachers were often quarry themselves, as Washington Irving's 
"Legend of Sleepy Hollow" warns us. Listen to the fate of schoolmaster Thomas 
Beveridge at the hands of the upper-class Latin School in Philadelphia, eleven years 
before the Revolution: 

He arrives, enters the school, and is permitted to proceed until he is supposed to have 
nearly reached his chair at the upper end of the room, when instantly the door, and every 
window shutter is closed. Now shrouded in utter darkness the most hideous yells that can 
be conceived are sent forth from three score of throats; and Ovids and Virgils and 
Horaces, together with the more heavy metal of dictionaries, are hurled without remorse 
at the astonished preceptor, who, groping and crawling under cover of the forms, makes 
the best of his way to the door. When attained, a light is restored and a death-like silence 

Every boy is at his lesson: No one has had a hand or a voice in the recent atrocity. 

In the humbler setting of rural Indiana recreated by Eggleston for Hoosier Schoolmaster 
(1871), we can easily see that passage of more than a century (and the replacement of 
rich kids by farmer's sons and daughters) hasn't altered classroom dynamics: 

When Ralph looked round on the faces of the scholars — the little faces full of mischief 
and curiosity, the big faces full of an expression which was not further removed than 
second-cousin from contempt — when young Hartsook looked into these faces, his heart 

palpitated with stage fright. There is no audience so hard to face as one of schoolchildren, 
as many a man has found to his cost. 

While Ralph was applying to a trustee of the school committee for this job, a large ugly 
bulldog sniffed at his heels, causing a young girl to "nearly giggle her head off at the 
delightful prospect of seeing a new schoolteacher eaten up by the ferocious brute." 
Weary, discouraged, "shivering with fear," he is lectured: 

You see, we a'n't none of your soft sort in these diggin's. It takes a man to boss this 
deestrick...if you git licked, don't come to us. Flat Crick don't pay no 'nsurance, you bet! takes grit to apply for this school. The last master had a black eye for a month. 

No Limit To Pain For Those Who Allow It 

One of the most telling accounts of schooling ever penned comes directly from the lips of 
a legendary power broker, Colonel Edward Mandel House, one of these grand shadowy 
figures in American history. House had a great deal to do with America's entry into WWI 
as a deliberate project to seize German markets in chemicals, armor plate and shipping, 
an aspect of our bellicosity rarely mentioned in scholastic histories. When peace came, 
House's behind-the-scenes maneuvering in the League of Nations contributed to 
repudiation of the organization. His management of President Wilson led to persistent 
stories that Wilson was little more than a puppet of the Colonel. 

In his memoirs, The Intimate Papers of Colonel House, we get a glimpse of elite 
American schooling in the 1870s. House's early years were school-free. He grew up after 
the Civil War, near Houston, Texas: 

My brother James, six years older than I, was the leader.. ..We all had guns and pistols... 
there were no childish games excepting those connected with war. [House was nine at the 
time.] In the evening around the fireside there were told tales of daring deeds that we 
strove to emulate.... I cannot remember the time when I began to ride and to shoot.... I 
had many narrow escapes. Twice I came near killing one of my playmates in the reckless 
use of firearms. They were our toys and death our playmate. 

At the age of fourteen House was sent to school in Virginia. The cruelty of the other boys 
made an indelible impression on his character, as you can sift from this account: 

I made up my mind at the second attempt to haze me that I would not permit it. I not only 
had a pistol but a large knife, and with these I held the larger, rougher boys at bay. There 
was no limit to the lengths they would go in hazing those who would allow it. One form I 
recall was that of going through the pretense of hanging. They would tie a boy's hands 
behind him and string him up by the neck over a limb until he grew purple in the face. 
None of it, however, fell to me. What was done to those who permitted it is almost 
beyond belief. 

At the Hopkins Grammar School in New Haven at the age of seventeen, during the 
Hayes-Tilden campaign of 1876, House began to "hang around" political offices instead 
of "attending to studies." He came to be recognized and was given small privileges. 
When the election had to be ultimately settled by an Electoral Commission he was 
allowed to "slip in and out of hearings at will." House again: 

All this was educational in its way, though not the education I was placed in Hopkins 
Grammar School to get, and it is no wonder that I lagged at the end of my class. I had no 
interest in desk tasks, but I read much and was learning in a larger and more interesting 

House's story was written over and over in the short, glorious history of American 
education before schooling took over. Young Americans were allowed close to the 
mechanism of things. This rough and tumble practice kept social class elastic and 
American achievement in every practical field superb. 

The Art Of Driving 

Now come back to the present while I demonstrate that the identical trust placed in 
ordinary people 200 years ago still survives where it suits managers of our economy to 
allow it. Consider the art of driving, which I learned at the age of eleven. Without 
everybody behind the wheel, our sort of economy would be impossible, so everybody is 
there, IQ notwithstanding. With less than thirty hours of combined training and 
experience, a hundred million people are allowed access to vehicular weapons more 
lethal than pistols or rifles. Turned loose without a teacher, so to speak. Why does our 
government make such presumptions of competence, placing nearly unqualified trust in 
drivers, while it maintains such a tight grip on near-monopoly state schooling? 

An analogy will illustrate just how radical this trust really is. What if I proposed that we 
hand three sticks of dynamite and a detonator to anyone who asked for them. All an 
applicant would need is money to pay for the explosives. You'd have to be an idiot to 
agree with my plan — at least based on the assumptions you picked up in school about 
human nature and human competence. 

And yet gasoline, a spectacularly mischievous explosive, dangerously unstable and with 
the intriguing characteristic as an assault weapon that it can flow under locked doors and 
saturate bulletproof clothing, is available to anyone with a container. Five gallons of 
gasoline have the destructive power of a stick of dynamite. The average tank holds fifteen 
gallons, yet no background check is necessary for dispenser or dispensee. As long as 
gasoline is freely available, gun control is beside the point. Push on. Why do we allow 
access to a portable substance capable of incinerating houses, torching crowded theaters, 
or even turning skyscrapers into infernos? We haven't even considered the battering ram 
aspect of cars — why are novice operators allowed to command a ton of metal capable of 
hurtling through school crossings at up to two miles a minute? Why do we give the power 
of life and death this way to everyone? 

It should strike you at once that our unstated official assumptions about human nature are 
dead wrong. Nearly all people are competent and responsible; universal motoring proves 
that. The efficiency of motor vehicles as terrorist instruments would have written a tragic 
record long ago if people were inclined to terrorism. But almost all auto mishaps are 
accidents, and while there are seemingly a lot of those, the actual fraction of mishaps, 
when held up against the stupendous number of possibilities for mishap, is quite small. I 
know it's difficult to accept this because the spectre of global terrorism is a favorite cover 
story of governments, but the truth is substantially different from the tale the public is 
sold. According to the U.S. State Department, 1995 was a near-record year for terrorist 
murders; it saw 300 worldwide (200 at the hand of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka) 
compared to 400,000 smoking-related deaths in the United States alone. When we 
consider our assumptions about human nature that keep children in a condition of 
confinement and limited options, we need to reflect on driving and things like almost 
nonexistent global terrorism. 

Notice how quickly people learn to drive well. Early failure is efficiently corrected, 
usually self-corrected, because the terrific motivation of staying alive and in one piece 
steers driving improvement. If the grand theories of Comenius and Herbart about learning 
by incremental revelation, or those lifelong nanny rules of Owen, Maclure, Pestalozzi, 
and Beatrice Webb, or those calls for precision in human ranking of Thorndike and Hall, 
or those nuanced interventions of Yale, Stanford, and Columbia Teachers College were 
actually as essential as their proponents claimed, this libertarian miracle of motoring 
would be unfathomable. 

Now consider the intellectual component of driving. It isn't all just hand-eye-foot 
coordination. First-time drivers make dozens, no, hundreds, of continuous hypotheses, 
plans, computations, and fine-tuned judgments every day they drive. They do this 
skillfully, without being graded, because if they don't, organic provision exists in the 
motoring universe to punish them. There isn't any court of appeal from your own 
stupidity on the road. 

I could go on: think of licensing, maintenance, storage, adapting machine and driver to 
seasons and daily conditions. Carefully analyzed, driving is as impressive a miracle as 
walking, talking, or reading, but this only shows the inherent weakness of analysis since 
we know almost everyone learns to drive well in a few hours. The way we used to be as 
Americans, learning everything, breaking down social class barriers, is the way we might 
be again without forced schooling. Driving proves that to me. 

Two Approaches To Discipline 

Rules of the Stokes County School November 10, 1848 
Wm. A. Chaffin, Master 


1 . Boys & Girls Playing Together 4 

2. Quarreling 4 

3 . Fighting 5 

4. Fighting at School 5 

5. Quarreling at School 3 

6. Gambling or Betting at School 4 

7. Playing at Cards at School 10 

8. Climbing for every foot over three feet up a tree 1 

9. Telling Lies 7 

10. Telling Tales Out of School 8 

1 1 . Nick Naming Each Other 4 

12. Giving Each Other ILL Names 3 

13. Fighting Each Other in Time of Books 2 

14. Swearing at School 8 

15. Blackguarding Each Other 6 

16. For Misbehaving to Girls 10 

17. For Leaving School Without Leave of the Teacher 4 

18. Going Home With Each Other without Leave of Teacher 4 

19. For Drinking Spiritous Liquors at School 8 

20. Making Swings & Swinging on Them 7 

21. For Misbehaving when a Stranger is in the House 6 

22. For Wearing Long Finger Nails 2 

23. For not Making a Bow when a Stranger Comes in 3 

24. Misbehaving to Persons on the Road 4 

25. For not Making a Bow when you Meet a Person 4 

26. For Going to Girl's Play Places 3 

27. For Going to Boy's Play Places 4 

28. Coming to School with Dirty Face and Hands 2 

29. For Calling Each Other Liars 4 

30. For Playing Bandy 10 

3 1 . For Bloting Your Copy Book 2 

32. For Not Making a bow when you go home 4 

33. For Not Making a bow when you come away 4 

34. Wrestling at School 4 

35. Scuffling at School 4 

36. For Weting each Other Washing at Play Time 2 

37. For Hollowing and Hooping Going Home 3 

38. For Delaying Time Going Home or Coming to School 3 

39. For Not Making a Bow when you come in or go out 2 

40. For Throwing anything harder than your trab ball 4 

41 . For every word you miss in your lesson without excuse 1 

42. For Not saying yes Sir or no Sir or yes Marm, no Marm 2 

43. For Troubling Each Others Writing Affairs 2 

44. For Not Washing at Play Time when going to Books 4 

45. For Going and Playing about the Mill or Creek 6 

46. For Going about the barn or doing any mischief about 7 

Whatever you might think of this in light of Dr. Spock or Piaget or the Yale Child Study 
folks, it must be apparent that civility was honored, and in all likelihood, no one ever 
played Bandy a second time! I've yet to meet a parent in public school who ever stopped 
to calculate the heavy, sometimes lifelong price their children pay for the privilege of 
being rude and ill-mannered at school. I haven't met a public school parent yet who was 
properly suspicious of the state's endless forgiveness of bad behavior for which the future 
will be merciless. 

At about the same time Master Chaffin was beating the same kind of sense into young 
tarheels that convict Hobby had beaten into little Washington, Robert Owen, a Scottish 
industrialist usually given credit for launching Utopian socialism, was constructing his 
two-volume Life. This autobiography contains "Ten Rules of Schooling," the first two of 
which show a liberalization occurring in nineteenth-century educational thought: 

1st Rule — No scolding or punishment of the Children. 

2nd Rule — Unceasing kindness in tone, look, word, and action, to all children without 
exception, by every teacher employed so as to create a real affection and full confidence 
between the teachers and the taught. 

The Owenite colony had what we now call a theory of holistic schooling as its 
foundation, Owen was a genuine messiah figure and his colony operated in a part of 
Indiana which was removed from prying eyes. New Harmony, as it was called, was the 
center of the transatlantic upperclass world's fascinated attention in its short existence. 
Yet it fell apart in three years, slightly less time than it took for John Dewey's own Lab 
School to be wrecked by Owenite principles unmistakably enough to suggest to Dewey it 
would be the better if he got out of Chicago. And so he did, transferring to Teachers 
College in Manhattan, where, in time, his Lincoln School carried on the psychological 
traditions of New Harmony before it, too, ultimately failed. 

The Schools Of Hellas 

Wherever it occurred, schooling through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (up until 
the last third of the nineteenth) heavily invested its hours with language, philosophy, art, 
and the life of the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome. In the grammar schools of 
the day, little pure grammar as we understand it existed; they were places of classical 
learning. Early America rested easily on a foundation of classical understanding, one 
subversive to the normal standards of British class society. The lessons of antiquity were 
so vital to the construction of every American institution it's hardly possible to grasp how 
deep the gulf between then and now is without knowing a little about those lessons. 
Prepare yourself for a surprise. 

For a long time, for instance, classical Athens distributed its most responsible public 
positions by lottery: army generalships, water supply, everything. The implications are 
awesome — trust in everyone's competence was assumed; it was their version of 
universal driving. Professionals existed but did not make key decisions; they were only 
technicians, never well regarded because prevailing opinion held that technicians had 
enslaved their own minds. Anyone worthy of citizenship was expected to be able to think 
clearly and to welcome great responsibility. As you reflect on this, remember our own 
unvoiced assumption that anyone can guide a ton of metal traveling at high speed with 
three sticks of dynamite sloshing around in its tanks. 

When we ask what kind of schooling was behind this brilliant society which has 
enchanted the centuries ever since, any honest reply can be carried in one word: None. 
After writing a book searching for the hidden genius of Greece in its schools, Kenneth 
Freeman concluded his unique study The Schools of Hellas in 1907 with this summary, 
"There were no schools in Hellas." No place boys and girls spent their youth attending 
continuous instruction under command of strangers. Indeed, nobody did homework in the 
modern sense; none could be located on standardized tests. The tests that mattered came 
in living, striving to meet ideals that local tradition imposed. The word skole itself means 
leisure, leisure in a formal garden to think and reflect. Plato in The Laws is the first to 
refer to school as learned discussion. 

The most famous school in Athens was Plato's Academy, but in its physical 
manifestation it had no classes or bells, was a well-mannered hangout for thinkers and 
seekers, a generator of good conversation and good friendship, things Plato thought lay at 
the core of education. Today we might call such a phenomenon a salon. Aristotle's 
Lyceum was pretty much the same, although Aristotle delivered two lectures a day — a 
tough one in the morning for intense thinkers, a kinder, gentler version of the same in the 
afternoon for less ambitious minds. Attendance was optional. And the famous 
Gymnasium so memorable as a forge for German leadership later on was in reality only 
an open training ground where men sixteen to fifty were free to participate in high- 
quality, state- subsidized instruction in boxing, wrestling, and javelin. 

The idea of schooling free men in anything would have revolted Athenians. Forced 
training was for slaves. Among free men, learning was self-discipline, not the gift of 
experts. From such notions Americans derived their own academies, the French their 
lycees, and the Germans their gymnasium. Think of it: In Athens, instruction was 
unorganized even though the city-state was surrounded by enemies and its own society 
engaged in the difficult social experiment of sustaining a participatory democracy, 
extending privileges without precedent to citizens, and maintaining literary, artistic, and 
legislative standards which remain to this day benchmarks of human genius. For its 500- 
year history from Homer to Aristotle, Athenian civilization was a miracle in a rude 
world; teachers flourished there but none was grounded in fixed buildings with regular 
curricula under the thumb of an intricately layered bureaucracy. 

There were no schools in Hellas. For the Greeks, study was its own reward. Beyond that 
few cared to go. 

The Fresco At Herculaneum 

Sparta, Athens' neighbor, was a horse of a different color. Society in Sparta was 
organized around the concept of cradle-to-grave formal training. The whole state was a 
universal schoolhouse, official prescriptions for the population filled every waking 
minute and the family was employed as a convenience for the state. Sparta's public 
political arrangements were an elaborate sham, organized nominally around an executive 
branch with two legislative bodies, but ultimate decision-making was in the hands of 
ephors, a small elite who conducted state policy among themselves. The practical aspect 
of imitation democracy figures strongly in the thought of later social thinkers such as 
Machiavelli (1532) and Hobbes (1651), as well as in minds nearer our own time who had 
influence on the shape of American forced schooling. 

Spartan ideas of management came to American consciousness through classical studies 
in early schooling, through churches, and also through interest in the German military 
state of Prussia, which consciously modeled itself after Sparta. As the nineteenth century 
entered its final decades American university training came to follow the 
Prussian/Spartan model. Service to business and the political state became the most 
important reason for college and university existence after 1910. No longer was college 
primarily about developing mind and character in the young. Instead, it was about 
molding those things as instruments for use by others. Here is an important clue to the 
philosophical split which informed the foundation of modern schooling and to an 
important extent still does: small farmers, crafts folk, trades people, little town and city 
professionals, little industrialists, and older manorial interests took a part of their dream 
of America from democratic Athens or from republican Rome (not the Rome of the 
emperors); this comprised a significant proportion of ordinary America. But new urban 
managerial elites pointed to a future based on Spartan outlook. 

When the instructional system of Athens transferred to Imperial Rome, a few schools we 
would recognize began to appear. The familiar punishment practices of colonial America 
can be found anticipated vividly in the famous fresco at Herculaneum, showing a Roman 
schoolboy being held by two of his classmates while the master advances, carrying a long 
whip. Roman schools must have started discipline early in the morning for we find the 
poet Martial cursing a school for waking him up at cock's crow with shouts and beatings; 
Horace immortalizes pedagogue Orbilius for whipping a love of old poets into him. But 
we shouldn't be misled by these school references. What few schools there were in Rome 
were for boys of prosperous classes, and even most of these relied upon tutors, tradition, 
and emulation, not school. 

The word pedagogue is Latin for a specialized class of slave assigned to walk a student to 
the schoolmaster; over time the slave was given additional duties, his role was enlarged 
to that of drill master, a procedure memorialized in Varro's instituit pedagogus, docet 
magister. in my rusty altar-boy Latin, The master creates instruction, the slave pounds it 
in. A key to modern schooling is this: free men were never pedagogues. And yet we often 
refer to the science of modern schooling as pedagogy. The unenlightened parent who 
innocently brings matters of concern to the pedagogue, whether that poor soul is called 

schoolteacher, principal, or superintendent, is usually beginning a game of frustration 
which will end in no fundamental change. A case of barking up the wrong tree in a dark 
wood where the right tree is far away and obscure. 

Pedagogy is social technology for winning attention and cooperation (or obedience) 
while strings are attached to the mind and placed in the hands of an unseen master. This 
may be done holistically, with smiles, music, and light-duty simulations of intellection, or 
it can be done harshly with rigorous drills and competitive tests. The quality of self-doubt 
aimed for in either case is similar. 

Pedagogy is a useful concept to help us unthread some of the mysteries of modern 
schooling. That it is increasingly vital to the social order is evinced by the quiet teacher- 
pay revolution that has occurred since the 1960s. As with police work (to which 
pedagogy bears important similarities), school pay has become relatively good, its hours 
of labor short, its job security first rate. Contrast this with the golden years of one-room 
schooling where pay was subsistence only and teachers were compelled to board around 
to keep body and soul together. Yet there was no shortage then of applicants and many 
sons of prominent Americans began their adult lives as schoolteachers. 

With the relative opulence of today, it would be simple to fill teaching slots with 
accomplished men and women if that were a goal. A little adjustment in what are 
rationally indefensible licensing requirements would make talented people, many 
performance-tested adults in their fifties and sixties, available to teach. That there is not 
such fluid access is a good sign the purpose of schooling is more than it appears. The 
year- in, year-out consistency of mediocre teacher candidates demonstrates clearly that the 
school institution actively seeks, nurtures, hires, and promotes the caliber of personnel it 

The Seven Liberal Arts 

When Rome dissolved in the sixth century, Roman genius emerged as the Universal 
Christian Church, an inspired religious sect grown spontaneously into a vehicle which 
invested ultimate responsibility for personal salvation in the sovereign individual. The 
Roman Church hit upon schooling as a useful adjunct, and so what few schools could be 
found after the fall of Rome were in ecclesiastical hands, remaining there for the next 
eleven or twelve centuries. Promotion inside the Church began to depend on having first 
received training of the Hellenic type. Thus a brotherhood of thoughtful men was created 
from the demise of the Empire and from the necessity of intellectually defining the new 

As the Church experimented with schooling, students met originally at the teacher's 
house, but gradually some church space was dedicated for the purpose. Thanks to 
competition among Church officials, each Bishop strove to offer a school and these, in 
time to be called Cathedral schools, attracted attention and some important sponsorship, 
each being a showcase of the Bishop's own educational taste. 

When the Germanic tribes evacuated northern Europe, overrunning the south, cathedral 
schools and monastic schools trained the invading leadership — a precedent of 
disregarding local interests which has continued ever after. Cathedral schools were the 
important educational institutions of the Middle Ages; from them derived all the schools 
of western Europe, at least in principle. 

In practice, however, few forms of later schooling would be the intense intellectual 
centers these were. The Seven Liberal Arts made up the main curriculum: lower studies 
were composed of grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic. Grammar was an introduction to 
literature, rhetoric an introduction to law and history, dialectic the path to philosophical 
and metaphysical disputation. Higher studies included arithmetic, geometry, music, and 
astronomy. Arithmetic was well beyond simple calculation, entering into descriptive and 
analytical capacities of numbers and their prophetic use (which became modern 
statistics); geometry embraced geography and surveying; music covered a broad course 
in theory; astronomy prepared entry into physics and advanced mathematics. 

Between the eleventh and the fourteenth centuries, an attempt to reduce the influence of 
emotionality in religion took command of church policy. Presenting the teachings of the 
Church in scientific form became the main ecclesiastical purpose of school, a tendency 
called scholasticism. This shift from emotion to intellect resulted in great skill in analysis, 
in comparison and contrasts, in classifications and abstraction, as well as famous verbal 
hairsplitting — like how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. Scholasticism 
became the basis for future upper-class schooling. 

The Platonic Ideal 

The official use of common schooling was invented by Plato; after him the idea 
languished, its single torchbearer the Church. Educational offerings from the Church 
were intended for, though not completely limited to, those young whose parentage 
qualified them as a potential Guardian class. You would hardly know this from reading 
any standard histories of Western schooling intended for the clientele of teacher colleges. 

Intense development of the Platonic ideal of comprehensive social control through 
schooling suddenly reappeared two-thousand years later in eighteenth-century France at 
the hands of a philosophical cultus known to history as philosophes, enthusiastic 
promoters of the bizarre idea of mass forced schooling. Most prominent among them, a 
self-willed man named Jean Jacques Rousseau. To add piquancy to Rousseau's thought, 
you need to know that when they were born, he chose to give away his own five offspring 
to strangers at birth. If any man captures the essence of enlightenment transformation, it 
is Rousseau. 

The Enlightenment "project" was conceived as a series of stages, each further leveling 
mankind, collectivizing ordinary humanity into a colonial organism like a volvox. The 
penetration of this idea, at least on the periphery of our own Founders' consciousness, is 
captured in the powerful mystery image of the pyramid on the obverse of our Great Seal. 
Of course, this was only one of many colors to emerge with the new nation, and it was 

not the most important, an inference that can be drawn from the fact that the pyramid was 
kept from public notice until 1935. Then it appeared suddenly on the back of our one 
dollar bill, signaling a profound shift in political management. 

Oriental Pedagogy 

The ideal of a leveling Oriental pedagogy expressed through government schooling was 
promoted by Jacobin orators of the French National Convention in the early 1790s, the 
commencement years of our own republic. The notion of forced schooling was 
irresistible to French radicals, an enthusiasm whose foundation had been laid in 
preceding centuries by Utopian writers like Harrington {Oceania), More {Utopia), Bacon 
{New Atlantis), Campanella {City of the Sun), and in other speculative fantasy embracing 
the fate of children. Cultivating a collective social organism was considered the 
ingredient missing from feudal society, an ingredient which would allow the West the 
harmony and stability of the East. 

Utopian schooling never about learning in the traditional sense; it's about the 
transformation of human nature. The core of the difference between Occident and Orient 
lies in the power relationship between privileged and ordinary, and in respective outlooks 
on human nature. In the West, a metaphorical table is spread by society; the student 
decides how much to eat; in the East, the teacher makes that decision. The Chinese 
character for school shows a passive child with adult hands pouring knowledge into his 
empty head. 

To mandate outcomes centrally would be a major step in the destruction of Western 
identity. Management by objectives, whatever those objectives might be, is a technique 
of corporate subordination, not of education. Like Alfred's, Charlemagne's awareness of 
Asia was sharpened in mortal combat. He was the first secular Western potentate to beat 
the drum for secular schooling. It was easy to ignore Plato's gloomy forecast that 
however attractive Utopia appears in imagination, human nature will not live easily with 
the degree of synthetic constraint it requires. 

Counter-Attack On Democracy 

By standards of the time, America was Utopia already. No grinding poverty, no dangerous 
national enemies, no indigenous tradition beyond a general spirit of exuberant optimism, 
a belief the land had been touched by destiny, a conviction Americans could accomplish 
anything. John Jay wrote to Jefferson in 1787, "The enterprise of our country is 
inconceivable" — inconceivable, that is, to the British, Germans, and French, who were 
accustomed to keeping the common population on a leash. Our colonial government was 
the creation of the Crown, of course, but soon a fantastic idea began to circulate, a belief 
that people might create or destroy governments at their will. 

The empty slate of the new republic made it vulnerable to advanced Utopian thinking. 
While in England and Germany, temptation was great to develop and use Oriental social 
machinery to bend mass population into an instrument of elite will, in America there was 

no hereditary order or traditional direction. We were a nation awash in literate, self- 
reliant men and women, the vast majority with an independent livelihood or ambitions 
toward getting one. Americans were inventors and technicians without precedent, 
entrepreneurs unlocked from traditional controls, dreamers, confidence men, flim-flam 
artists. There never was a social stew quite like it. 

The practical difficulties these circumstances posed to Utopian governing would have 
been insuperable except for one seemingly strange source of enthusiasm for such an 
endeavor in the business community. That puzzle can be solved by considering how the 
promise of democracy was a frightening terra incognita to men of substance. To look to 
men like Sam Adams or Tom Paine as directors of the future was like looking down the 
barrel of a loaded gun, at least to people of means. So the men who had begun the 
Revolution were eased out by the men who ended it. 

As early as 1784, a concerted effort was made by the Boston business community to 
overthrow town meetings, replacing them with a professionally managed corporation. 
Joseph Barrell, a wealthy merchant, claimed that citizen safety could be enhanced this 
way — and besides, "a great number of very respectable gentlemen" wished it. Timothy 
Dwight, longtime president of Yale after 1795, and a pioneer in modern education 
(advocating science as the center of curriculum), fought a mighty battle against 
advancing democracy. Democracy was hardly the sort of experiment men of affairs 
would willingly submit their lives and fortunes to for very long. 

This tension explains much about how our romance with forced schooling came about; it 
was a way to stop democracy aborning as Germany had done. Much ingenuity was 
expended on this problem in the early republic, particularly by so-called liberal Christian 
sects like Unitarians and Universalists. If you read relics of their debates preserved from 
select lyceums, private meetings at which minutes were kept, journals, recollections of 
drawing room conversations and club discussions, you see that what was shaping up was 
an attempt to square the circle, to give the appearance that the new society was true to its 
founding promise, while at the same time a sound basis could be established for the 
meritorious to run things. Once again, the spirit of Sparta was alive with its ephors and its 
reliance on forced instruction. In discussions, speeches, sermons, editorials, experimental 
legislation, letters, diaries, and elsewhere, the ancient idea of mass forced schooling was 
called forth and mused upon. 

How Hindu Schooling Came To America (I) 

By the end of the first quarter of the nineteenth century, a form of school technology was 
up and running in America's larger cities, one in which children of lower-class customers 
were psychologically conditioned to obedience under pretext that they were learning 
reading and counting (which may also have happened). These were the Lancaster 
schools, sponsored by Governor DeWitt Clinton of New York and prominent Quakers 
like Thomas Eddy, builder of the Erie Canal. They soon spread to every corner of the 
nation where the problem of an incipient proletariat existed. Lancaster schools are 
cousins of today's school factories. What few knew then or realize now is that they were 

also a Hindu invention, designed with the express purpose of retarding intellectual 

How Hindu schooling came to America, England, Germany, and France at just about the 
same time is a story which has never been told. A full treatment is beyond the scope of 
this book, but I'll tell you enough to set you wondering how an Asiatic device 
specifically intended to preserve a caste system came to reproduce itself in the early 
republic, protected by influentials of the magnitude of Clinton and Eddy. Even a brief 
dusting off of schooling's Hindu provenance should warn you that what you know about 
American schooling isn't much. First, a quick gloss on the historical position of India at 
the time of the American Revolution — for Lancaster schools were in New York two 
decades after its end. 

India fell victim to Western dominance through nautical technology in the following 
fashion: When medieval Europe broke up after its long struggle to reconcile emergent 
science with religion, five great ocean powers appeared to compete for the wealth of the 
planet: Portugal, Spain, France, the Netherlands, and England. Portugal was the first to 
sail for treasure, leaving colonies in India, China, and South America, but its day in the 
sun was short. Spain emerged as the next global superpower, but after 1600, her character 
decayed rapidly from the corrupting effects of the gold of the Americas, which triggered 
a long national decline. The Netherlands turn followed because that nation had the 
advantage of a single-minded commercial class in control of things with one aim in mind: 
wealth. The Dutch monopolized the carrying trade of Europe with globe-trotting 
merchant ships and courageous military seamanship, yet as with Portugal before it, the 
Dutch population was too small, its internal resources too anemic for its dominance to 
extend very long. 

Beginning in the seventeenth century, England and France gradually built business in the 
East, both balked for a time by the Dutch who controlled the spice trade of the Indies. 
Three naval wars with the Dutch made the Royal Navy master of the seas, in the process 
developing tactics of sea warfare that made it dominant for the next two centuries. By 
1700, only France and England remained as global sea powers with impressive fighting 
capability, and during the last half of that century these giants slugged it out directly in 
Canada, India, and in the territory which is today the United States, with the result that 
France went permanently into eclipse. 

In India, the two contended through their commercial pseudopodia, the British and 
French East India Companies: each maintained a private army to war on the other for tea, 
indigo, turmeric, ginger, quinine, oilseeds, silk, and that product which most captivated 
British merchants with its portability and breakaway profit potential — opium. At Plassey, 
Chandernagor, Madras, and Wandiwash, this long corporate rivalry ended. The French 
abandoned India to the British. The drug monopoly was finally England's. 

Out of this experience and the observations of a wealthy young Anglican chaplain in 
India, the formula for modern schooling was discovered. Perhaps it was no more than 
coincidence this fellow held his first gainful employment as a schoolteacher in the United 

States; on the other hand, perhaps his experience in a nation which successfully threw off 
British shackles sensitized him to the danger an educated population poses to 

How Hindu Schooling Came To America (II) 

Andrew Bell, the gentleman in question, used to be described in old editions of the 
Britannica as "cold, shrewd, self-seeking." He might not have been the most pious cleric. 
Perhaps like his contemporary, Parson Malthus, he didn't really believe in God at all, but 
as a young man following the flag he had an eye out for the main chance. Bell found his 
opportunity when he studied the structure Hindus arranged for training the lower castes, 
about 95 percent of the Indian population. It might well serve a Britain which had driven 
its peasantry into ruin in order to create an industrial proletariat for coal-driven industry. 

Bell was fascinated by the purposeful nature of Hindu schooling. It seemed eminently 
compatible with the goals of the English state church. So as many another ambitious 
young man has done throughout history when he stumbles upon a little-known novelty, 
he swiped it. Before we turn to details of the Hindu method, and how Bell himself was 
upstaged by an ambitious young Quaker who beat him into the school market with a 
working version of Bell's idea, you should understand a little about Hindu religion. 

After the British military conquest of India (in reality a merchant conquest) nothing 
excited the popular mind and the well-bred mind alike more than Hindu religion with its 
weird (to Western eyes) idols and rituals. Close analysis of Sanskrit literature seemed to 
prove that some kind of biological and social link had existed between the all-conquering 
Aryans, from whom the Hindus had descended, and Anglo-Saxons, which might explain 
theological similarities between Hinduism and Anglicanism. The possibilities suggested 
by this connection eventually provided a powerful psychic stimulus for creation of class- 
based schooling in the United States. Of course such a development then lay far in the 

The caste system of Hinduism or Brahminism is the Anglican class system pushed to its 
imaginative limits. A five-category ranking (each category further subdivided) apportions 
people into a system similar to that found in modern schools. Prestige and authority are 
reserved for the three highest castes, although they only comprise 5 percent of the total; 
inescapable servility is assigned the lowest caste, a pariah group outside serious 
consideration. In the Hindu system one may fall into a lower caste, but one cannot rise. 

When the British began to administer India, Hindus represented 70 percent of a 
population well over a hundred million. Contrast this with an America of perhaps three 
million. In the northern region, British hero Robert Clive was president of Bengal where 
people were conspicuously lighter-skinned than the other major Indian group, having 
features not unlike those of the British. 

Hindu castes looked like this: 

The upper 5 percent was divided into three "twice-born" groups. 

1 . Brahmins — Priests and those trained for law, medicine, teaching, and other 
professional occupations. 

2. The warrior and administrative caste. 

3. The industrial caste, which would include land cultivators and mercantile groups. 

The lower 95 percent was divided into: 

1. The menial caste. 

2. Pariahs, called "untouchables." 

The entire purpose of Hindu schooling was to preserve the caste system. Only the lucky 5 
percent received an education which gave perspective on the whole, a key to 
understanding. In actual practice, warriors, administrators, and most of the other leaders 
were given much diluted insight into the driving engines of the culture, so that policy 
could be kept in the hands of Brahmins. But what of the others, the "masses" as Western 
socialist tradition would come to call them in an echoing tribute to the Hindu class idea? 
The answer to that vital question launched factory schooling in the West. 

Which brings us back to Andrew Bell. Bell noticed that in some places Hinduism had 
created a mass schooling institution for children of the ordinary, one inculcating a 
curriculum of self-abnegation and willing servility. In these places hundreds of children 
were gathered in a single gigantic room, divided into phalanxes often under the direction 
of student leaders with the whole ensemble directed by a Brahmin. In the Roman manner, 
paid pedagogues drilled underlings in the memorization and imitation of desired attitudes 
and these underlings drilled the rest. Here was a social technology made in heaven for the 
factories and mines of Britain, still uncomfortably saturated in older yeoman legends of 
liberty and dignity, one not yet possessing the perfect proletarian attitudes mass 
production must have for maximum efficiency. Nobody in the early years of British rule 
had made a connection between this Hindu practice and the pressing requirements of an 
industrial future. Nobody, that is, until a thirty-four- year-old Scotsman arrived in India as 
military chaplain. 

How Hindu Schooling Came To America (III) 

Young Bell was a go-getter. Two years after he got to India he was superintendent of the 
male orphan asylum of Madras. In order to save money Bell decided to try the Hindu 
system he had seen and found it led students quickly to docile cooperation, like parts of a 
machine. Furthermore, they seemed relieved not to have to think, grateful to have their 
time reduced to rituals and routines as Frederick Taylor was to reform the American 
workplace a hundred years later. 

In 1797, Bell, now forty-two, published an account of what he had seen and done. Pulling 
no punches, he praised Hindu drill as an effective impediment to learning writing and 
ciphering, an efficient control on reading development. A twenty-year-old Quaker, 

Joseph Lancaster, read Bell's pamphlet, thought deeply on the method, and concluded, 
ironically, it would be a cheap way to awaken intellect in the lower classes, ignoring the 
Anglican's observation (and Hindu experience) that it did just the opposite. 

Lancaster began to gather poor children under his father's roof in Borough Road, 
London, to give them rudimentary instruction without a fee. Word spread and children 
emerged from every alley, dive, and garret, craving to learn. Soon a thousand children 
were gathering in the street. The Duke of Bedford heard about Lancaster and provided 
him with a single enormous schoolroom and a few materials. The monitorial system, as it 
was called, promised to promote a mental counterpart to the productivity of factories. 

Transforming dirty ghetto children into an orderly army attracted many observers. The 
fact that Lancaster's school ran at tiny cost with only one employee raised interest, too. 
Invitations arrived to lecture in surrounding towns, where the Quaker expounded on what 
had now become his system. Lancaster schools multiplied under the direction of young 
men he personally trained. So talked about did the phenomenon become, it eventually 
attracted the attention of King George III himself, who commanded an interview with 
Joseph. Royal patronage followed on the stipulation that every poor child be taught to 
read the Bible. 

But with fame and public responsibility, another side of Lancaster showed itself — he 
became vain, reckless, improvident. Interested noblemen bailed him out after he fell 
deeply in debt, and helped him found the British and Foreign School Society, but 
Lancaster hated being watched over and soon proved impossible to control. He left the 
organization his patrons erected, starting a private school which went bankrupt. By 1818 
the Anglican Church, warming to Bell's insight that schooled ignorance was more useful 
than unschooled stupidity, set up a rival chain of factory schools that proved to be 
handwriting on the wall for Lancaster. In the face of this competition he fled to America 
where his fame and his method had already preceded him. 

Meanwhile, in England, the whole body of dissenting sects gave Lancaster vociferous 
public support, thoroughly alarming the state church hierarchy. Prominent church laymen 
and clergy were not unaware that Lancaster's schools weren't playing by Hindu rules — 
the prospect of a literate underclass with unseemly ambitions was a window on a future 
impossible to tolerate. Bell had been recalled from his rectory in Dorset in 1807 to 
contest Lancaster's use of Hindu schooling. In 181 1, he was named superintendent of an 
organization to oppose Lancaster's British and Foreign School Society, "The National 
Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established 
Church." Since those principles held that the poor were poor because the Lord wanted it 
that way, the content of the society's schooling leaves little about which we need to 
speculate. Bell was sent to plant his system in Presbyterian Scotland, while the patronage 
advantage of Bell-system schools contained and diminished the reach of Lancaster. For 
his services to the state, Bell was eventually buried in Westminster Abbey. 

At first, Lancaster was welcomed warmly in the United States, but his affection for 
children and his ability to awaken pride and ambition in his charges made him ultimately 

unacceptable to important patrons who were much more interested in spreading Bell's 
dumbed-down method, without its Church of England baggage attached. Fortunately for 
their schemes, Lancaster grew even more shiftless, unmethodical, and incapable of 
sustained effort (or principled action). In the twenty remaining years of his life, Lancaster 
ranged from Montreal to Caracas, disowned by Quakers for reasons I've been unable to 
discover. He once declared it would be possible to teach illiterates to read fluently in 
twenty to ninety days, which is certainly true. At the age of sixty he was run over by a 
carriage in New York and died a few hours later. 

But while he died an outcast, his system outlived him, or at least a system bearing his 
name did, albeit more Bell's than Lancaster's. It accustomed an influential public to 
expect streets to be clear of the offspring of the poor and to expenditures of tax money to 
accomplish this end. The first Lancaster school was opened in New York City in 1806; 
by 1 829 the idea had spread to the Mexican state of Texas with stops as far west as 
Cincinnati, Louisville, and Detroit. The governors of New York and Pennsylvania 
recommended general adoption to their legislatures. 

What exactly was a "Lancaster" school? Its essential features involved one large room 
stuffed with anywhere from 300 to 1,000 children under the direction of a single teacher. 
The children were seated in rows. The teacher was not there to teach but to be "a 
bystander and inspector"; students, ranked in a paramilitary hierarchy, did the actual 

What the master says should be done. When the pupils as well as the schoolmaster 
understand how to act and learn on this system, the system, not the master's vague 
discretionary, uncertain judgment, will be in practice. In common school the authority of 
the master is personal, and the rod is his scepter. His absence is an immediate signal for 
confusion, but in a school conducted on my plan when the master leaves the school, the 
business will go on as well in his absence as in his presence, [emphases added] 

Here, without forcing the matter, is our modern pedagogus technologicus, harbinger of 
future computerized instruction. In such a system, teachers and administrators are 
forbidden to depart from instructions elsewhere written. But while dumbing children 
down was the whole of the government school education in England, it was only part of 
the story in America, and a minor one until the twentieth century. 

Braddock's Defeat 

Unless you're a professional sports addict and know that Joe Montana, greatest 
quarterback of the modern era, went to Waverly school in Monongahela, or that Ron 
Neccai, only man in modern baseball history to strike out every batter on the opposing 
team for a whole game did, too, or that Ken Griffey Jr. went to its high school as well, 
you can be forgiven if you never heard of Monongahela. But once upon a time at the 
beginning of our national history, Monongahela marked the forward edge of a new 
nation, a wilder West than ever the more familiar West became. Teachers on a frontier 
cannot be bystanders. 

Custer's Last Stand in Montana had no military significance. Braddock's Last Stand near 
Monongahela, on the other hand, changed American history forever because it proved 
that the invincible British could be taken. And twenty-one years later we did take them, 
an accomplishment the French and Spanish, their principal rivals, had been unable to do. 
Why that happened, what inspiration allowed crude colonials to succeed where powerful 
and polished nations could not, is so tied up with Monongahela that I want to bring the 
moment back for you. It will make a useful reference point, you'll see, as we consider the 
problem of modern schooling. Without Braddock's defeat we would never have had a 
successful American revolution; without getting rid of the British, the competence of 
ordinary people to educate themselves would never have had a fair test. 

In July of 1755, at the age of twenty-three, possessing no university degrees, the alumnus 
of no military academy, with only two years of formal schooling under his belt, half- 
orphan George Washington was detailed an officer in the Virginia militia to accompany 
an English military expedition moving to take the French fort at the forks of the 
Monongahela and Allegheny, the point that became Pittsburgh. His general, Edward 
Braddock, was an aristocrat commanding a well-equipped and disciplined force 
considerably superior to any possible resistance. Braddock felt so confident of success, he 
dismissed the advice of Washington to put aside traditional ways of European combat in 
the New World. 

On July 9, 1755, two decades and one year before our Revolution commenced under the 
direction of the same Washington, Braddock executed a brilliant textbook crossing of the 
Monongahela near the present Homestead High Bridge by Kennywood amusement park. 
With fife and drum firing the martial spirit, he led the largest force in British colonial 
America, all in red coats and polished metal, across the green river into the trees on the 
farther bank. Engineers went ahead to cut a road for men and cannon. 

Suddenly the advance guard was enveloped in smoke. It fell back in panic. The main 
body moved up to relieve, but the groups meeting, going in opposite directions, caused 
pandemonium. On both sides of the milling redcoats, woods crackled with hostile 
gunfire. No enemy could be seen, but soldiers were caught between waves of bullets 
fanning both flanks. Men dropped in bunches. Bleeding bodies formed hills of screaming 
flesh, accelerating the panic. 

Enter George, the Washington almost unknown to American schoolchildren. Making his 
way to Braddock, he asked permission to engage the enemy wilderness fashion; 
permission denied. Military theory held that allowing commands to emanate from 
inferiors was a precedent more dangerous than bullets. The British were too well trained 
to fight out of formation, too superbly schooled to adapt to the changing demands of the 
new situation. When my grandfather took me to the scene of that battle years after on the 
way to Kennywood, he muttered without explanation, "Goddamn bums couldn't think for 
themselves." Now I understand what he meant. 

The greatest military defeat the British ever suffered in North America before Saratoga 
was underway. Washington's horse was shot from under him, his coat ripped by bullets. 

Leaping onto a second horse, his hat was lifted from his head by gunfire and the second 
horse went down. A legend was in the making on the Monongahela that day, passed to 
Britain, France, and the colonies by survivors of the battle. Mortally wounded, Braddock 
released his command. Washington led the retreat on his hands and knees, crawling 
through the twilight dragging the dying Braddock, symbolic of the imminent death of 
British rule in America. 

Monongahela began as a town fourteen years later, crossing point for a river ferry 
connecting to the National Road (now Route 40) which began, appropriately enough, in 
the town of Washington, Pennsylvania. In 1791, leaders of the curious "Whiskey 
Rebellion" met in Monongahela about a block from the place I was born; Scots-Irish 
farmers sick of the oppression of federal rule in the new republic spoke of forging a 
Trans-Allegheny nation of free men. Monongahela might have been its capital had they 
succeeded. We know these men were taken seriously back East because Washington, 
who as general never raised an army larger than 7,000 to fight the British, as president 
assembled 13,000 in 1794 to march into western Pennsylvania to subdue the Whiskey 
rebels. Having fought with them as comrades, he knew the danger posed by these wild 
men of the farther forests was no pipedream. They were descendants of the original 
pioneers who broke into the virgin forest, an evergreen and aggressive strain of populism 
ran through their group character. 

Monongahela appears in history as a place where people expected to make their own 
luck, a place where rich and poor talked face to face, not through representatives. In the 
1830s it became a way station on the escape route from Horace Mann — style Whiggery, 
the notion that men should be bound minutely by rules and layered officialdom. 
Whiggery was a neo-Anglican governing idea grown strong in reaction to Andrew 
Jackson's dangerous democratic revolution. Whigs brought us forced schooling before 
they mutated into both Democrats and Republicans; history seemed to tell them that with 
School in hand their mission was accomplished. Thousands of Americans, sensibly 
fearing the worst, poured West to get clear of this new British consciousness coming 
back to life in the East, as if the spirit of General Braddock had survived after all. Many 
of the new pilgrims passed through Mon City on the road to a place that might allow 
them to continue seeing things their own way. 

Each group passing through on its western migration left a testament to its own particular 
yearnings — there are no less than twenty-three separate religious denominations in 
Monongahela, although less than 5,000 souls live in the town. Most surprising of all, you 
can find there world headquarters of an autonomous Mormon sect, one that didn't go to 
Nauvoo with the rest of Smith's band but decamped here in a grimier Utopia. 
Monongahela Mormons never accepted polygamy. They read the Book of Mormon a 
different way. From 1755 until the Civil War, the libertarianism of places like 
Monongahela set the tone for the most brilliant experiment in self-governance the modern 
world has ever seen. Not since the end of the Pippin Kings in France had liberty been so 
abundantly available for such a long time. A revolution in education was at hand as 
knowledge of the benefits of learning to the vigor of the spirit spread far and wide across 
America. Formal schooling played a part in this transformation, but its role was far from 

decisive. Schooled or not, the United States was the best-educated nation in human 
history — because it had liberty. 


When I was a schoolboy at the Waverly School in Monongahela, Peg Hill told us that 
David Farragut, the U.S. Navy's very first admiral, had been commissioned midshipman 
at the ripe old age often for service on the warship Essex. Had Farragut been a schoolboy 
like me, he would have been in fifth grade when he sailed for the Argentine, rounding the 
Horn into action against British warships operating along the Pacific coast of South 

Farragut left a description of what he encountered in his first sea fight: 

I shall never forget the horrid impression made upon me at the sight of the first man I had 
ever seen killed. It staggered me at first, but they soon began to fall so fast that it 
appeared like a dream and produced no effect on my nerves. 

The poise a young boy is capable of was tested when a gun captain on the port side 
ordered him to the wardroom for primers. As he started down the ladder, a gun captain on 
the starboard side opposite the ladder was "struck full in the face by an eighteen-pound 
shot," his headless corpse falling on Farragut: 

We tumbled down the hatch together. I lay for some moments stunned by the blow, but 
soon recovered consciousness enough to rush up on deck. The captain, seeing me covered 
with blood, asked if I were wounded; to which I replied, "I believe not, sir." "Then," said 
he, "where are the primers?" This brought me to my senses and I ran below again and 
brought up the primers. 

The Essex had success; it took prizes. Officers were dispatched with skeleton crews to 
sail them back to the United States, and at the age of twelve, Farragut got his first 
command when he was picked to head a prize crew. I was in fifth grade when I read 
about that. Had Farragut gone to my school he would have been in seventh. You might 
remember that as a rough index how far our maturity had been retarded even fifty years 
ago. Once at sea, the deposed British captain rebelled at being ordered about by a boy and 
announced he was going below for his pistols (which as a token of respect he had been 
allowed to keep). Farragut sent word down that if the captain appeared on deck armed he 
would be summarily shot and dumped overboard. He stayed below. 

So ended David Farragut's first great test of sound judgment. At fifteen, this unschooled 
young man went hunting pirates in the Mediterranean. Anchored off Naples, he witnessed 
an eruption of Vesuvius and studied the mechanics of volcanic action. On a long layover 
in Tunis, the American consul, troubled by Farragut's ignorance, tutored him in French, 
Italian, mathematics, and literature. Consider our admiral in embryo. I'd be surprised if 
you thought his education was deficient in anything a man needs to be reckoned with. 

When I was a schoolboy in Monongahela, I learned how Thomas Edison left school early 
because the school thought him feeble-minded. He spent his early years peddling 
newspapers. Just before the age of twelve he talked his mother into letting him work on 
trains as a train-boy, a permission she gave which would put her in jail right now. A 
train-boy was apprentice of all work. Shortly afterwards a printer gave Edison some old 
type he was about to discard and the boy, successfully begging a corner for himself in the 
baggage car to set type, began printing a four-page newspaper the size of a handkerchief 
about the lives of the passengers on the train and the things that could be seen from its 

Several months later, twelve-year-old Edison had 500 subscribers, earning a net profit 
monthly about 25 percent more than an average schoolteacher of the day made. When the 
Civil War broke out, the newspaper became a goldmine. Railroads had telegraph facilities 
so war news was available to Edison as quickly as to professional journalists, but he 
could move it into print sooner than they could. He sold the war to crowds at the various 
stops. "The Grand Trunk Herald" sold as many as 1,000 extra copies after a battle at 
prices per issue from a dime to a quarter, amassing for Edison a handsome stake. 
Unfortunately, at the same time he had been experimenting with phosphorus in the 
baggage car. One thing led to another and Edison set the train on fire; otherwise there 
might never have been a light bulb. 

When I was a schoolboy in Monongahela, I learned with a shock that the men who won 
our Revolution were barely out of high school by the standards of my time: Hamilton was 
twenty in the retreat from New York; Burr, twenty-one; Light Horse Harry Lee, twenty- 
one; Lafayette, 19. What amounted to a college class rose up and struck down the British 
empire, afterwards helping to write the most sophisticated governing documents in 
modern history. 

When I was a schoolboy in Monongahela, I learned the famous Samuel Pepys, whose 
Diary is a classic, wasn't just an old gossip but president of the Royal Society, the most 
prominent association of scientists in existence in the seventeenth century. He was also 
Secretary of the Admiralty. Why that's important to our investigation of modern 
schooling is this: Pepys could only add and subtract right up to the time of his 
appointment to the Admiralty, but then quickly learned to multiply and divide to spare 
himself embarrassment. I took a different lesson from that class than the teacher intended, 
I think. 

At the age of five, when I entered the first grade, I could add, subtract, and multiply 
because Dad used to play numbers games with my sister and me in the car. He taught me 
the mastery of those skills within a matter of a few hours, not years and years as it took in 
school. We did all calculations in our heads with such gusto I seldom use a pencil today 
even for much more intricate computation. Pepys verified my father's unstated premise: 
You can learn what you need, even the technical stuff, at the moment you need it or 
shortly before. Sam Pepys wasn't put in charge of Britain's sea defense because he knew 
how to multiply or divide but because he had good judgment, or at least it was thought 

Ben Franklin 

Ben Franklin was born on Milk Street, Boston, on January 17, 1706. His father had 
seventeen children (four died at birth) by two wives. Ben was the youngest. Josiah, the 
father, was a candlemaker, not part of the gentry. His tombstone tells us he was "without 
an estate or any gainful employment" which apparently means his trade didn't allow 
wealth to be amassed. But, as the talkative tombstone continues, "By constant labor and 
industry with God's blessing they maintained a large family comfortably, and brought up 
thirteen children and seven grandchildren reputably." 

Writing to his own son at the age of sixty- five, Ben Franklin referred to his circumstances 
as "poverty and obscurity" from which he rose to a state of affluence, and to some degree, 
reputation. The means he used "so well succeeded" he thought posterity might like to 
know what they were. Some, he believed, "would find his example suitable to their own 
situations, and therefore, fit to be imitated." 

At twelve he was bound apprentice to brother James, a printer. After a few years of that, 
and disliking his brother's authority, he ran away first to New York and soon after to 
Philadelphia where he arrived broke at the age of seventeen. Finding work as a printer 
proved easy, and through his sociable nature and ready curiosity he made acquaintance 
with men of means. One of these induced Franklin to go to London where he found work 
as a compositor and once again brought himself to the attention of men of substance. A 
merchant brought him back to Philadelphia in his early twenties as what might today be 
called an administrative assistant or personal secretary. From this association, Franklin 
assembled means to set up his own printing house which published a newspaper, The 
Pennsylvania Gazette, to which he constantly contributed essays. 

At twenty-six, he began to issue "Poor Richard's Almanac," and for the next quarter 
century the Almanac spread his fame through the colonies and in Europe. He involved 
himself deeper and deeper in public affairs. He designed an Academy which was 
developed later into the University of Pennsylvania; he founded the American 
Philosophical Society as a crossroads of the sciences; he made serious researches into the 
nature of electricity and other scientific inquiries, carried on a large number of 
moneymaking activities; and involved himself heavily in politics. At the age of forty-two 
he was wealthy. The year was 1748. 

In 1748, he sold his business in order to devote himself to study, and in a few years, 
scientific discoveries gave him a reputation with the learned of Europe. In politics, he 
reformed the postal system and began to represent the colonies in dealings with England, 
and later France. In 1757, he was sent to England to protest against the influence of the 
Penns in the government of Pennsylvania, and remained there five years, returning two 
years later to petition the King to take the government away from the Penns. He lobbied 
to repeal the Stamp Act. From 1767 to 1775, he spent much time traveling through 
France, speaking, writing, and making contacts which resulted in a reputation so vast it 
brought loans and military assistance to the American rebels and finally crucial French 
intervention at Yorktown, which broke the back of the British. 

As a writer, politician, scientist, and businessman, Franklin had few equals among the 
educated of his day — though he left school at ten. He spent nine years as American 
Commissioner to France. In terms only of his ease with the French language, of which he 
had little until he was in his sixties, this unschooled man's accomplishments are 
unfathomable by modern pedagogical theory. In many of his social encounters with 
French nobility, this candlemaker's son held the fate of the new nation in his hands, 
because he (and Jefferson) were being weighed as emblems of America's ability to 
overthrow England. 

Franklin's Autobiography is a trove of clues from which we can piece together the actual 
curriculum which produced an old man capable of birthing a nation: 

My elder brothers were all put apprentice to different trades. I was put to the grammar 
school at eight years of age, my father intending to devote me, as the tithe of his sons, to 
the services of the (Anglican) church. My early readiness in learning to read (which must 
have been very early, as I do not remember when I could not read) and the opinion of all 
his friends, that I should be a good scholar, encouraged him in this purpose..! continued, 
however, at grammar school not quite one year. 

Young Ben was yanked from grammar school and sent to another type less ritzy and 
more nuts and bolts in colonial times: the "writing and arithmetic"school. There under the 
tutelage of Mr. Brownell, an advocate of "mild, encouraging methods," Franklin failed in 

At ten years old I was taken home to assist my father in his business.... Accordingly I was 
employed in cutting wick for candles, filling the dipping mold and the molds for cast 
candles. Attending the shop, going on errands, etc. I disliked the trade, and had a strong 
inclination for the sea, but my father declared against it. 

There are other less flattering accounts why Franklin left both these schools and struck 
out on his own at the age often — elsewhere he admits to being a leader of mischief, some 
of it mildly criminal, and to being "corrected" by his father — but causation is not our 
concern, only bare facts. Benjamin Franklin commenced school at third grade age and 
exited when he would have been in the fifth to become a tallow chandler's apprentice. 

A major part of Franklin's early education consisted of studying father Josiah, who turns 
out, himself, to be a pretty fair example of education without schooling: 

He had an excellent constitution... very strong. ..ingenious. ..could draw prettily... skilled in 
music. ..a clear pleasing voice. ..played psalm tunes on his violin. ..a mechanical 
genius... sound understanding... solid judgment in prudential matters, both private and 
public affairs. In the latter, indeed, he was never employed, the numerous family he had 
to educate and the straitness of his circumstances keeping him close to his grade; but I 
remember well his being frequently visited by leading people, who consulted him for his 
opinion in affairs of the town or of the church. ..and showed a great deal of respect for his 
judgment and advice. ..frequently chosen an arbitrator between contending parties. 

We don't need to push too hard to see a variety of informal training laboratories 
incidentally offered in this father/son relationship which had sufficient time to prove 
valuable in Franklin's own development, opportunities that would have been hard to find 
in any school. 

Josiah drew, he sang, he played violin — this was a tallow chandler with sensitivity to 
those areas in which human beings are most human; he had an inventive nature 
("ingenious") which must have provided a constant example to Franklin that a solution 
can be crafted ad hoc to a problem if a man kept his nerve and had proper self-respect. 
His good sense, recognized by neighbors who sought his judgment, was always within 
earshot of Ben. In this way the boy came to see the discovery process, various systems of 
judgment, the role of an active citizen who may become minister without portfolio simply 
by accepting responsibility for others and discharging that responsibility faithfully: 

At his table he liked to have as often as he could some sensible friend or neighbor to 
converse with, and always took care to start some ingenious or useful topic for discourse, 
which might tend to improve the minds of his children. By this means he turned our 
attention to what was good, just, and prudent in the conduct of life; and little or no notice 
was ever taken of what related to the victuals on the table. ..I was brought up in such 
perfect inattention to those matters as to be quite indifferent what kind of food was set 
before me. 

No course of instruction or quantity of homework could deliver Franklin's facility with 
language, only something like Josiah's incidental drills at the dinner table. We can see 
sharply through Franklin's memoir that a tallow chandler can indeed teach himself to 
speak to kings. 

And there were other themes in the family Franklin's educational armory besides arts, 
home demonstrations, regular responsibility, being held to account, being allowed to 
overhear adults solving public and private problems, and constant infusions of good 

He. ..sometimes took me to walk with him, and see joiners, bricklayers, turners, braziers, 
etc., at their work, that he might observe my inclination, and endeavor to fix it on some 
trade or other.... It has ever since been a pleasure to me to see good workmen handle their 
tools; and it has been useful to me, having learnt so much by it as to be able to do little 
jobs myself. As it is for most members of a literate society, reading was the largest single 
element of Franklin's educational foundation. 

From a child I was fond of reading, and all the little money that came into my hands was 
ever laid out in books. Pleased with Pilgrim 's Progress my first collection was of John 
Bunyan's works in separate little volumes. I afterwards sold them to enable me to buy R. 
Burton's Historical Collections; they were small chapman's books, and cheap, 40 to 50 
in all. My father's little library consisted chiefly of books in polemic divinity, most of 
which I read. ...Plutarch 's Lives there was in which I read abundantly, and I still think that 
time spent to great advantage. There was also a book of Defoe's, called an Essay on 

Projects, and another of Dr. Mather's, called Essays to Do Good, which perhaps gave me 
a turn of thinking that had an influence on some of the principal future events in my life. 

You might well ask how young Franklin was reading Bunyan, Burton, Mather, Defoe, 
Plutarch, and works of "polemic divinity" before he would have been in junior high 
school. If you were schooled in the brain development lore of academic pedagogy it 
might seem quite a tour deforce. 

How do you suppose this son of a workingman with thirteen kids became such an 
effective public speaker that for more than half a century his voice was heard nationally 
and internationally on the great questions? He employed a method absolutely free: he 
argued with his friend Collins: 

Very fond we were of argument, and very desirous of confuting one another, which 
disputatious turn is based upon contradiction. [Here Franklin warns against using 
dialectics on friendships or at social gatherings] I had caught it [the dialectical habit] by 
reading my father's books of dispute about religion.... A question was started between 
Collins and me, of the propriety of educating the female sex in learning, and their 
abilities to study. He was of the opinion that it was improper.... I took the contrary side. 

Shortly after he began arguing, he also began reading the most elegant periodical of the 
day, Addison and Steele's Spectator. 

I thought the writing excellent and wished, if possible, to imitate it. With that in view I 
took some of the papers, and making short hints of the sentiment in each sentence, laid 
them by a few days, and then, without looking at the book, try'd to complete the papers 
again, by expressing each hinted sentiment at length, and as fully as it had been expressed 
before, in any suitable words that should come to hand. Then I compared my Spectator 
with the original, discovered some of my faults, and corrected them. 

This method was hammered out while working a sixty-hour week. In learning eloquence 
there's only Ben, his determination, and the Spectator, no teacher. For instance, while 
executing rewrites, Franklin came to realize his vocabulary was too barren: 

I found I wanted a stock of words... which I thought I should have acquired before that 
time if I had gone on making verses; since the continual occasion for words of the same 
import, but of different length, to suit the measure, or of different sound for the rhyme, 
would have laid me under a constant necessity of searching for variety, and also have 
tended to fix that variety in my mind and make me master of it. 

As a good empiricist he tried a home cure for this deficiency: 

I took some tales and turned them into verse; and after a time when I had pretty well 
forgotten the prose, turned them back again. I also sometimes jumbled my collection of 
hints [his outline] into confusions and after some weeks endeavored to reduce them into 
the best order, before I began to form the full sentences and complete the paper. This was 

to teach me method in the arrangement of thoughts. By comparing my work afterwards 
with the original I discovered many faults and amended them; but I sometimes thought... 
I had been lucky enough to improve the method or the language. 

By the time he was sixteen Franklin was ready to take up his deficiencies in earnest with 
full confidence he could by his own efforts overcome them. Here's how he handled that 
problem with arithmetic: 

Being on some occasion made asham'd of my ignorance in figures, which I had twice 
failed in learning when at school, I took Crocker's book of Arithmetick, and went 
through the whole by myself with great ease. I also read Seller's and Shermy's book of 
Navigation and became acquainted with the geometry they contain. 

This school dropout tells us he was also reading John Locke's Essay Concerning Human 
Understanding, as well as studying the arts of rhetoric and logic, particularly the Socratic 
method of disputation, which so charmed and intrigued him that he abruptly dropped his 
former argumentative style, putting on the mask of "the humble inquirer and doubter": 

I found this method safest for myself and very embarrassing to those against whom I used 
it; therefore I took a delight in it, practis'd it continually, and grew very artful and expert 
in drawing people, even of superior knowledge, into concessions, the consequences of 
which they did not foresee, entangling them in difficulties out of which they could not 
extricate themselves, and so obtaining victories that neither myself nor my cause always 

Might there be an instructive parallel between teaching a kid to drive as my uncle taught 
me to do at age eleven, and the incredible opportunities working-class kids like Franklin 
were given to develop as quickly and as far as their hearts and minds allowed? We drive, 
regardless of our intelligence or characters, because the economy demands it; in colonial 
America through the early republic, a pressing need existed to get the most from 
everybody. Because of that need, unusual men and unusual women appeared in great 
numbers to briefly give the lie to traditional social order. In that historical instant, 
thousands of years of orthodox suppositions were shattered. In the words of Eric Hoffer, 
"Only here in America were common folk given a chance to show what they could do on 
their own without a master to push and order them about." Franklin and Edison, 
multiplied many times, were the result. 

George Washington 

A good yardstick to measure how far modern schooling has migrated from the education 
of the past is George Washington's upbringing in the middle eighteenth century. 
Although Washington descended from important families, his situation wasn't quite the 
easeful life that suggests. The death of his father left him, at eleven, without Ben 
Franklin's best rudder, and the practice of primogeniture, which vested virtually the 
entire inheritance in the first son (in order to stabilize social class) compelled Washington 
to either face the future as a ward of his brother, an unthinkable alternative for George, or 

take destiny into his own hands as a boy. You probably already know how that story 
turned out, but since the course he pursued was nearly schoolless, its curriculum is worth 
a closer look. For the next few minutes imagine yourself at "school" with Washington. 

George Washington was no genius; we know that from too many of his contemporaries to 
quibble. John Adams called him "too illiterate, too unlearned, too unread for his station 
and reputation." Jefferson, his fellow Virginian, declared he liked to spend time "chiefly 
in action, reading little." It was an age when everyone in Boston, even shoeblacks, knew 
how to read and count; it was a time when a working-class boy in a family of thirteen like 
Franklin couldn't remember when he didn't know how to read. 

As a teenager, Washington loved two things: dancing and horseback riding. He pursued 
both with a passion that paid off handsomely when he became president. Large in 
physical stature, his appearance might have stigmatized him as awkward. Instead, he 
developed the agile strength of a dancer and an equestrian, he was able to communicate 
grace through his commanding presence, elan that counterpoised his large build at any 
gathering. Thanks to his twin obsessions he met his responsibilities with the bearing of a 
champion athlete, which saved his life during the Revolution. In the midst of the fray, a 
British sharpshooter drew a bead on this target, but found himself unable to pull the 
trigger because Washington bore himself so magnificently! George Mercer, a friend, 
described Washington as a young man in the following way: 

He is straight as an Indian, measuring six feet, two inches in his stockings and weighing 
175 pounds.... His frame is padded with well developed muscles, indicating great 

British military superiority, including the best available war-making technology, would 
have made hash of a brainless commander in spite of his admirable carriage, so we need 
to analyze the curriculum which produced "America's Fabius," as he was called. 1 

Washington had no schooling until he was eleven, no classroom confinement, no 
blackboards. He arrived at school already knowing how to read, write, and calculate 
about as well as the average college student today. If that sounds outlandish, turn back to 
Franklin's curriculum and compare it with the intellectual diet of a modern gifted and 
talented class. Full literacy wasn't unusual in the colonies or early republic; many schools 
wouldn't admit students who didn't know reading and counting because few 
schoolmasters were willing to waste time teaching what was so easy to learn. It was 
deemed a mark of depraved character if literacy hadn't been attained by the matriculating 
student. Even the many charity schools operated by churches, towns, and philanthropic 
associations for the poor would have been flabbergasted at the great hue and cry raised 
today about difficulties teaching literacy. American experience proved the contrary. 

In New England and the Middle Atlantic Colonies, where reading was especially valued, 
literacy was universal. The printed word was also valued in the South, where literacy was 
common, if not universal. In fact, it was general literacy among all classes that spurred 

the explosive growth of colleges in nineteenth-century America, where even ordinary 
folks hungered for advanced forms of learning. 

Following George to school at eleven to see what the schoolmaster had in store would 
reveal a skimpy menu of studies, yet one with a curious gravity: geometry, trigonometry, 
and surveying. You might regard that as impossible or consider it was only a dumbed- 
down version of those things, some kid's game akin to the many simulations one finds 
today in schools for prosperous children — simulated city-building, simulated court trials, 
simulated businesses — virtual realities to bridge the gap between adult society and the 
immaturity of the young. But if George didn't get the real thing, how do you account for 
his first job as official surveyor for Culpepper County, Virginia, only 2,000 days after he 
first hefted a surveyor's transit in school? 

For the next three years, Washington earned the equivalent of about $100,000 a year in 
today's purchasing power. It's probable his social connections helped this fatherless boy 
get the position, but in frontier society anyone would be crazy to give a boy serious work 
unless he actually could do it. Almost at once he began speculating in land; he didn't 
need a futurist to tell him which way the historical wind was blowing. By the age of 
twenty-one, he had leveraged his knowledge and income into 2,500 acres of prime land in 
Frederick County, Virginia. 

Washington had no father as a teenager, and we know he was no genius, yet he learned 
geometry, trigonometry, and surveying when he would have been a fifth or sixth grader 
in our era. Ten years later he had prospered directly by his knowledge. His entire life was 
a work of art in the sense it was an artifice under his control. He even eventually freed his 
slaves without being coerced to do so. Washington could easily have been the first king 
in America but he discouraged any thinking on that score, and despite many critics, he 
was so universally admired the seat of government was named after him while he was 
still alive. 

Washington attended school for exactly two years. Besides the subjects mentioned, at 
twelve and thirteen (and later) he studied frequently used legal forms like bills of 
exchange, tobacco receipts, leases, and patents. From these forms, he was asked to 
deduce the theory, philosophy, and custom which produced them. By all accounts, this 
steeping in grown-up reality didn't bore him at all. I had the same experience with 
Harlem kids 250 years later, following a similar procedure in teaching them how to 
struggle with complex income tax forms. Young people yearn for this kind of guided 
introduction to serious things, I think. When that yearning is denied, schooling destroys 
their belief that justice governs human affairs. 

By his own choice, Washington put time into learning deportment, how to be regarded a 
gentleman by other gentlemen; he copied a book of rules which had been used at Jesuit 
schools for over a century and with that, his observations, and what advice he could 
secure, gathered his own character. Here's rule 56 to let you see the flavor of the thing: 
"Associate yourself with men of good Quality if you Esteem your own reputation." Sharp 
kid. No wonder he became president. 

Washington also studied geography and astronomy on his own, gaining a knowledge of 
regions, continents, oceans, and heavens. In light of the casual judgment of his 
contemporaries that his intellect was of normal proportions, you might be surprised to 
hear that by eighteen he had devoured all the writings of Henry Fielding, Tobias Smollett, 
and Daniel Defoe and read regularly the famous and elegant Spectator. He also read 
Seneca's Morals, Julius Caesar's Commentaries, and the major writing of other Roman 
generals like the historian Tacitus. 

At sixteen the future president began writing memos to himself about clothing design, not 
content to allow something so important to be left in the hands of tradesmen. Years later 
he became his own architect for the magnificent estate of Mt. Vernon. While still in his 
twenties, he began to experiment with domestic industry where he might avoid the 
vagaries of international finance in things like cotton or tobacco. First he tried to grow 
hemp "for medicinal purposes," which didn't work out; next he tried flax — that didn't 
work either. At the age of thirty-one, he hit on wheat. In seven years he had a little wheat 
business with his own flour mills and hired agents to market his own brand of flour; a 
little later he built fishing boats: four years before the Declaration was written he was 
pulling in 9 million herring a year. 

No public school in the United States is set up to allow a George Washington to happen. 
Washingtons in the bud stage are screened, browbeaten, or bribed to conform to a narrow 
outlook on social truth. Boys like Andrew Carnegie who begged his mother not to send 
him to school and was well on his way to immortality and fortune at the age of thirteen, 
would be referred today for psychological counseling; Thomas Edison would find 
himself in Special Ed until his peculiar genius had been sufficiently tamed. 

Anyone who reads can compare what the American present does in isolating children 
from their natural sources of education, modeling them on a niggardly last, to what the 
American past proved about human capabilities. The effect of the forced schooling 
institution's strange accomplishment has been monumental. No wonder history has been 

'Washington's critics dubbed him "Fabius" after the Roman general who dogged Hannibal's march but avoided battle with the Carthaginian. 
Washington wore down British resolve by eroding the general belief in their invincibility, something he had learned on the Monongahela when 
Braddock's force was routed. Eventually the French became convinced Washington was on the winning side, and with their support America 
became a nation. But it was the strategy of Washington that made a French-American alliance possible at all. 

Montaigne's Curriculum 

Between the fall of Rome in the late fifth century and the decline of monarchy in the 
eighteenth, secular schooling in any form was hardly a ripple on the societies of Europe. 
There was talk of it at certain times and places, but it was courtly talk, never very serious. 
What simple schooling we find was modestly undertaken by religious orders which 
usually had no greater ambition than providing a stream of assistants to the ecclesiastical 
bureaucracy, and perhaps molding the values of whatever future leaders proved 
susceptible; the few exceptions shouldn't be looked upon as the spark for our own 

schools. School was only a tiny blip on the radar until the last half of the eighteenth 

If you and I are to have a productive partnership in this book you need to clear your mind 
of false history, the type that clogs the typical school chronicle written for teacher 
training institutes where each fact may be verifiable but the conclusions drawn from them 
are not. Turn to typical school history and you will learn about the alleged anticipation of 
our own schools by Comenius, of the reformed Latin Grammar School founded by Dean 
Colet at St. Paul's in London in 1510, of the "solitaries of Port Royal," whoever those 
lonely men may have been; each instance is real, the direction they lead in is false. What 
formal school experimentation the West provided touched only a tiny fraction of the 
population, and rarely those who became social leaders, let alone pioneers of the future. 

You can disinter proclamations about schooling from Alfred's kingdom or 
Charlemagne's, but you can't find a scrap of hard evidence that the thing was ever 
seriously essayed. What talk of schooling occurs is the exclusive property of 
philosophers, secret societies, and a host of cranks, quacks, and schemers. What you 
never find anywhere is any popular clamor for a place to dump children called School. 
Yet while schooling is conspicuous by its absence, there's no shortage of intelligent 
commentary about education — a commodity not to be conflated with the lesser term until 
late in history. 

Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, Pope Pius II, in his tract The Education of Children (1451), 
prescribes the reading and study of classical authors, geometry, and arithmetic "for 
training the mind and assuring rapidity of conceptions." He included history and 
geographyin his recommended curriculum, adding that "there is nothing in the world 
more beautiful than enlightened intelligence." The sixteenth century is filled with theories 
of education from men like Erasmus, Rabelais, and Montaigne. French schoolman 
Gabriel Compayre, in his History of Pedagogy (1885), holds all three in the highest 

Erasmus, Rabelais, and Montaigne. ..before pretending to surpass them, even at this day, 
we should rather attempt to overtake them, and to equal them in their pedagogical 

Like most educated men and women, Erasmus was his own teacher. He assigned 
politeness an important place in education: 

The tender mind of the child should. and learn the liberal arts. taught tact in the 
conduct of the social life. ..from the earliest be accustomed to good behavior based on 
moral principles. 

Montaigne, who actually attended school at Guienne from the age of six until he was 
thirteen, bequeathed an image of late sixteenth-century schooling amazingly modern in 
its particulars: 

Tis the true house of correction of imprisoned youth. but come when they are about 
their lesson and you shall hear nothing but the outcries of boys under execution, with the 
thundering noise of their Pedagogues, drunk with fury, to make up the consort. A pretty 
way this to tempt these tender and timorous souls to love their book, with a furious 
countenance and a rod in hand. 

What Montaigne requires of a student seeking education is the development of sound 
judgment: "If the judgment be not better settled, I would rather have him spend his time 
at tennis." 

Montaigne was preoccupied with the training of judgment. He would have history 
learned so that facts have contexts and historical judgment a bearing on contemporary 
affairs; he was intrigued by the possibilities of emulation 1 , as were all the classical 
masters, and so informs us. He said we need to see the difference between teaching, 
"where Marcellus died," which is unimportant and teaching "why it was unworthy of his 
duty that he died there," which has great significance. For Montaigne, learning to judge 
well and speak well is where education resides: 

Whatever presents itself to our eyes serves as a sufficient book. The knavery of a page, 
the blunder of a servant, a table witticism. ..conversation with men is wonderfully helpful, 
so is a visit to foreign lands.. .to whet and sharpen our wits by rubbing them upon those of 

And in Gargantua the physician Rabelais set out a pedagogy quite in harmony with the 
experience-based curriculum of John Locke. 

When I started teaching, I was able to transfer principles of Montaigne to my classroom 
without any difficulty. They proved as useful to me in 1962 as they must have been to 
Montaigne in 1562, wisdom eternally sane, always cost-free. In contrast, the bloated lists 
of "aims," "motivations," and "methods" the New York City Board of Education supplied 
me with were worse than useless; many were dead wrong 

One important bit of evidence that the informal attitude toward schooling was beginning 
to break up in seventeenth-century New England is found in the Massachusetts School 
Law of 1647, legislation attempting to establish a system of schools by government order 
and providing means to enforce that order. Talk like this had been around for centuries, 
but this was a significant enactment, coming from a theocratic Utopia on the frontier of 
the known universe. 

Yet for all the effort of New England Puritan leadership to make its citizenry uniform 
through schooling and pulpit, one of history's grand ironies is that orderly Anglican 
Virginia and the heirs of Puritan Massachusetts were the prime makers of a revolution 
which successfully overthrew the regulated uniformity of Britain. And in neither the 
startling Declaration of Independence, which set out the motives for this revolution, nor 
in the even more startling Bill of Rights in which ordinary people claimed their reward 
for courageous service, is either the word School or the word Education even mentioned. 

At the nation's founding, nobody thought School a cause worth going to war for, nobody 
thought it a right worth claiming. 

Emulation or the imitation of notable models as an effective spring of learning; thus was the most ancient and effec- tive motivation to learn- 
to become like someone admirable — put to death deliberately by institutional pedagogy. 


An Angry Look at Modern Schooling 

Today 's corporate sponsors want to see their money used in ways to line up with business 
objectives.... This is a young generation of corporate sponsors and they have discovered 
the advantages of building long-term relationships with educational institutions. 
— Suzanne Cornforth of Paschall & Associates, public relations consultants. As quoted 
in The New York Times, July 15, 1998 

A Change In The Governing Mind 

Sometimes the best hiding place is right in the open. It took seven years of reading and 
reflection for me to finally figure out that mass schooling of the young by force was a 
creation of the four great coal powers of the nineteenth century. It was under my nose, of 
course, but for years I avoided seeing what was there because no one else seemed to 
notice. Forced schooling arose from the new logic of the Industrial Age — the logic 
imposed on flesh and blood by fossil fuel and high-speed machinery. 

This simple reality is hidden from view by early philosophical and theological 
anticipations of mass schooling in various writings about social order and human nature. 
But you shouldn't be fooled any more than Charles Francis Adams was fooled when he 
observed in 1880 that what was being cooked up for kids unlucky enough to be snared by 
the newly proposed institutional school net combined characteristics of the cotton mill 
and the railroad with those of a state prison. 

After the Civil War, Utopian speculative analysis regarding isolation of children in 
custodial compounds where they could be subjected to deliberate molding routines, began 
to be discussed seriously by the Northeastern policy elites of business, government, and 
university life. These discussions were inspired by a growing realization that the 
productive potential of machinery driven by coal was limitless. Railroad development 
made possible by coal and startling new inventions like the telegraph, seemed suddenly to 
make village life and local dreams irrelevant. A new governing mind was emerging in 
harmony with the new reality. 

The principal motivation for this revolution in family and community life might seem to 
be greed, but this surface appearance conceals philosophical visions approaching 
religious exaltation in intensity — that effective early indoctrination of all children would 
lead to an orderly scientific society, one controlled by the best people, now freed from the 
obsolete straitjacket of democratic traditions and historic American libertarian attitudes. 

Forced schooling was the medicine to bring the whole continental population into 
conformity with these plans so that it might be regarded as a "human resource" and 
managed as a "workforce." No more Ben Franklins or Tom Edisons could be allowed; 
they set a bad example. One way to manage this was to see to it that individuals were 
prevented from taking up their working lives until an advanced age when the ardor of 
youth and its insufferable self-confidence had cooled. 

Extending Childhood 

From the beginning, there was purpose behind forced schooling, purpose which had 
nothing to do with what parents, kids, or communities wanted. Instead, this grand 
purpose was forged out of what a highly centralized corporate economy and system of 
finance bent on internationalizing itself was thought to need; that, and what a strong, 
centralized political state needed, too. School was looked upon from the first decade of 
the twentieth century as a branch of industry and a tool of governance. For a considerable 
time, probably provoked by a climate of official anger and contempt directed against 
immigrants in the greatest displacement of people in history, social managers of 
schooling were remarkably candid about what they were doing. In a speech he gave 
before businessmen prior to the First World War, Woodrow Wilson made this unabashed 

We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another class, a very much larger 
class of necessity, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to 
perform specific difficult manual tasks. 

Byl917, the major administrative jobs in American schooling were under the control of a 
group referred to in the press of that day as "the Education Trust." The first meeting of 
this trust included representatives of Rockefeller, Carnegie, Harvard, Stanford, the 
University of Chicago, and the National Education Association. The chief end, wrote 
Benjamin Kidd, the British evolutionist, in 1918, was to "impose on the young the ideal 
of subordination." 

At first, the primary target was the tradition of independent livelihoods in America. 
Unless Yankee entrepreneurialism could be extinquished, at least among the common 
population, the immense capital investments that mass production industry required for 
equipment weren't conceivably justifiable. Students were to learn to think of themselves 
as employees competing for the favor of management. Not as Franklin or Edison had 
once regarded themselves, as self-determined, free agents. 

Only by a massive psychological campaign could the menace of overproduction in 
America be contained. That's what important men and academics called it. The ability of 
Americans to think as independent producers had to be curtailed. Certain writings of 
Alexander Inglis carry a hint of schooling's role in this ultimately successful project to 
curb the tendency of little people to compete with big companies. From 1880 to 1930, 
overproduction became a controlling metaphor among the managerial classes, and this 
idea would have a profound influence on the development of mass schooling. 

I know how difficult it is for most of us who mow our lawns and walk our dogs to 
comprehend that long-range social engineering even exists, let alone that it began to 
dominate compulsion schooling nearly a century ago. Yet the 1934 edition of Ellwood P. 
Cubberley's Public Education in the United States is explicit about what happened and 
why. As Cubberley puts it: 

It has come to be desirable that children should not engage in productive labor. On the 
contrary, all recent thinking... [is] opposed to their doing so. Both the interests of 
organized labor and the interests of the nation have set against child labor. 

The statement occurs in a section of Public Education called "A New Lengthening of the 
Period of Dependence," in which Cubberley explains that "the coming of the factory 
system" has made extended childhood necessary by depriving children of the training and 
education that farm and village life once gave. With the breakdown of home and village 
industries, the passing of chores, and the extinction of the apprenticeship system by large- 
scale production with its extreme division of labor (and the "all conquering march of 
machinery"), an army of workers has arisen, said Cubberley, who know nothing. 

Furthermore, modern industry needs such workers. Sentimentality could not be allowed 
to stand in the way of progress. According to Cubberley, with "much ridicule from the 
public press" the old book-subject curriculum was set aside, replaced by a change in 
purpose and "a new psychology of instruction which came to us from abroad." That last 
mysterious reference to a new psychology is to practices of dumbed-down schooling 
common to England, Germany, and France, the three major world coal-powers (other 
than the United States), each of which had already converted its common population into 
an industrial proletariat. 

Arthur Calhoun's 1919 Social History of the Family notified the nation's academics what 
was happening. Calhoun declared that the fondest wish of Utopian writers was coming 
true, the child was passing from its family "into the custody of community experts." He 
offered a significant forecast, that in time we could expect to see public education 
"designed to check the mating of the unfit." Three years later, Mayor John F. Hylan of 
New York said in a public speech that the schools had been seized as an octopus would 
seize prey, by "an invisible government." He was referring specifically to certain actions 
of the Rockefeller Foundation and other corporate interests in New York City which 
preceded the school riots of 1917. 

The 1920s were a boom period for forced schooling as well as for the stock market. In 
1928, a well-regarded volume called A Sociological Philosophy of Education claimed, "It 
is the business of teachers to run not merely schools but the world." A year later, the 
famous creator of educational psychology, Edward Thorndike of Columbia Teachers 
College, announced, "Academic subjects are of little value." William Kirkpatrick, his 
colleague at Teachers College, boasted in Education and the Social Crisis that the whole 
tradition of rearing the young was being made over by experts. 

The Geneticist's Manifesto 

Meanwhile, at the project offices of an important employer of experts, the Rockefeller 
Foundation, friends were hearing from Max Mason, its president, that a comprehensive 
national program was underway to allow, in Mason's words, "the control of human 
behavior." This dazzling ambition was announced on April 11, 1933. Schooling figured 
prominently in the design. 

Rockefeller had been inspired by the work of Eastern European scientist Hermann Muller 
to invest heavily in genetics. Muller had used x-rays to override genetic law, inducing 
mutations in fruit flies. This seemed to open the door to the scientific control of life itself. 
Muller preached that planned breeding would bring mankind to paradise faster than God. 
His proposal received enthusiastic endorsement from the greatest scientists of the day as 
well as from powerful economic interests. 

Muller would win the Nobel Prize, reduce his proposal to a fifteen-hundred-word 
Geneticists ' Manifesto, and watch with satisfaction as twenty-two distinguished 
American and British biologists of the day signed it. The state must prepare to 
consciously guide human sexual selection, said Muller. School would have to separate 
worthwhile breeders from those slated for termination. 

Just a few months before this report was released, an executive director of the National 
Education Association announced that his organization expected "to accomplish by 
education what dictators in Europe are seeking to do by compulsion and force." You 
can't get much clearer than that. WWII drove the project underground, but hardly 
retarded its momentum. Following cessation of global hostilities, school became a major 
domestic battleground for the scientific rationalization of social affairs through 
compulsory indoctrination. Great private corporate foundations led the way. 

Participatory Democracy Put To The Sword 

Thirty-odd years later, between 1967 and 1974, teacher training in the United States was 
covertly revamped through coordinated efforts of a small number of private foundations, 
select universities, global corporations, think tanks, and government agencies, all 
coordinated through the U.S. Office of Education and through key state education 
departments like those in California, Texas, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York. 

Important milestones of the transformation were: 1) an extensive government exercise in 
futurology called Designing Education for the Future, 2) the Behavioral Science Teacher 
Education Project, and 3) Benjamin Bloom's multivolume Taxonomy of Educational 
Objectives, an enormous manual of over a thousand pages which, in time, impacted every 
school in America. While other documents exist, these three are appropriate touchstones 
of the whole, serving to make clear the nature of the project underway. 

Take them one by one and savor each. Designing Education, produced by the Education 
Department, redefined the term "education" after the Prussian fashion as "a means to 
achieve important economic and social goals of a national character." State education 
agencies would henceforth act as on-site federal enforcers, ensuring the compliance of 
local schools with central directives. Each state education department was assigned the 
task of becoming "an agent of change" and advised to "lose its independent identity as 
well as its authority," in order to "form a partnership with the federal government." 

The second document, the gigantic Behavioral Science Teacher Education Project, 
outlined teaching reforms to be forced on the country after 1967. If you ever want to hunt 

this thing down, it bears the U.S. Office of Education Contract Number OEC-0-9- 
320424-4042 (BIO). The document sets out clearly the intentions of its creators — nothing 
less than "impersonal manipulation" through schooling of a future America in which "few 
will be able to maintain control over their opinions," an America in which "each 
individual receives at birth a multi-purpose identification number" which enables 
employers and other controllers to keep track of underlings and to expose them to direct 
or subliminal influence when necessary. Readers learned that "chemical experimentation" 
on minors would be normal procedure in this post- 1967 world, a pointed foreshadowing 
of the massive Ritalin interventions which now accompany the practice of forced 

The Behavioral Science Teacher Education Project identified the future as one "in which 
a small elite" will control all important matters, one where participatory democracy will 
largely disappear. Children are made to see, through school experiences, that their 
classmates are so cruel and irresponsible, so inadequate to the task of self-discipline, and 
so ignorant they need to be controlled and regulated for society's good. Under such a 
logical regime, school terror can only be regarded as good advertising. It is sobering to 
think of mass schooling as a vast demonstration project of human inadequacy, but that is 
at least one of its functions. 

Post-modern schooling, we are told, is to focus on "pleasure cultivation" and on "other 
attitudes and skills compatible with a non-work world." Thus the socialization classroom 
of the century's beginning — itself a radical departure from schooling for mental and 
character development — can be seen to have evolved by 1967 into a full-scale laboratory 
for psychological experimentation. 

School conversion was assisted powerfully by a curious phenomenon of the middle to 
late 1960s, a tremendous rise in school violence and general school chaos which followed 
a policy declaration (which seems to have occurred nationwide) that the disciplining of 
children must henceforth mimic the "due process" practice of the court system. Teachers 
and administrators were suddenly stripped of any effective ability to keep order in 
schools since the due process apparatus, of necessity a slow, deliberate matter, is 
completely inadequate to the continual outbreaks of childish mischief all schools 

Now, without the time-honored ad hoc armory of disciplinary tactics to fall back on, 
disorder spiraled out of control, passing from the realm of annoyance into more 
dangerous terrain entirely as word surged through student bodies that teacher hands were 
tied. And each outrageous event that reached the attention of the local press served as an 
advertisement for expert prescriptions. Who had ever seen kids behave this way? Time to 
surrender community involvement to the management of experts; time also for 
emergency measures like special education and Ritalin. During this entire period, lasting 
five to seven years, outside agencies like the Ford Foundation exercised the right to 
supervise whether "children's rights" were being given due attention, fanning the flames 
hotter even long after trouble had become virtually unmanageable. 

The Behavioral Science Teacher Education Project, published at the peak of this 
violence, informed teacher-training colleges that under such circumstances, teachers had 
to be trained as therapists; they must translate prescriptions of social psychology into 
"practical action" in the classroom. As curriculum had been redefined, so teaching 
followed suit. 

Third in the series of new gospel texts was Bloom's Taxonomy, in his own words, "a tool 
to classify the ways individuals are to act, think, or feel as the result of some unit of 
instruction." Using methods of behavioral psychology, children would learn proper 
thoughts, feelings, and actions, and have their improper attitudes brought from home 

In all stages of the school experiment, testing was essential to localize the child's mental 
state on an official rating scale. Bloom's epic spawned important descendant forms: 
Mastery Learning, Outcomes-Based Education, and School to Work government- 
business collaborations. Each classified individuals for the convenience of social 
managers and businesses, each offered data useful in controlling the mind and 
movements of the young, mapping the next adult generation. But for what purpose? Why 
was this being done? 

Bad Character As A Management Tool 

A large piece of the answer can be found by reading between the lines of an article that 
appeared in the June 1998 issue of Foreign Affairs. Written by Mortimer Zuckerman, 
owner of U.S. News and World Report (and other major publications), the essay praises 
the American economy, characterizing its lead over Europe and Asia as so structurally 
grounded no nation can possibly catch up fori 00 years. American workers and the 
American managerial system are unique. 

You are intrigued, I hope. So was I. Unless you believe in master race biology, our 
advantage can only have come from training of the American young, in school and out, 
training which produces attitudes and behavior useful to management. What might these 
crucial determinants of business success be? 

First, says Zuckerman, the American worker is a pushover. That's my translation, not his, 
but I think it's a fair take on what he means when he says the American is indifferent to 
everything but a paycheck. He doesn't try to tell the boss his job. By contrast, Europe 
suffers from a strong "steam age" craft tradition where workers demand a large voice in 
decision-making. Asia is even worse off, because even though the Asian worker is 
silenced, tradition and government interfere with what business can do. 

Next, says Zuckerman, workers in America live in constant panic; they know companies 
here owe them nothing as fellow human beings. Fear is our secret supercharger, giving 
management flexibility no other country has. In 1996, after five years of record 
profitability, almost half of all Americans in big business feared being laid off. This fear 
keeps a brake on wages. 

Next, in the United States, human beings don't make decisions, abstract formulas do; 
management by mathematical rules makes the company manager-proof as well as 

Finally, our endless consumption completes the charmed circle, consumption driven by 
non- stop addiction to novelty, a habit which provides American business with the only 
reliable domestic market in the world. Elsewhere, in hard times business dries up, but not 
here; here we shop till we drop, mortgaging the future in bad times as well as good. 

Can 't you feel in your bones Zuckerman is right? I have little doubt the fantastic wealth 
of American big business is psychologically and procedurally grounded in our form of 
schooling. The training field for these grotesque human qualities is the classroom. 
Schools train individuals to respond as a mass. Boys and girls are drilled in being bored, 
frightened, envious, emotionally needy, generally incomplete. A successful mass 
production economy requires such a clientele. A small business, small farm economy like 
that of the Amish requires individual competence, thoughtfulness, compassion, and 
universal participation; our own requires a managed mass of leveled, spiritless, anxious, 
familyless, friendless, godless, and obedient people who believe the difference between 
Cheers and Seinfeld is a subject worth arguing about. 

The extreme wealth of American big business is the direct result of school having trained 
us in certain attitudes like a craving for novelty. That's what the bells are for. They don't 
ring so much as to say, "Now for something different." 

An Enclosure Movement For Children 

The secret of American schooling is that it doesn't teach the way children learn, and it 
isn't supposed to; school was engineered to serve a concealed command economy and a 
deliberately re-stratified social order. It wasn't made for the benefit of kids and families 
as those individuals and institutions would define their own needs. School is the first 
impression children get of organized society; like most first impressions, it is the lasting 
one. Life according to school is dull and stupid, only consumption promises relief: Coke, 
Big Macs, fashion jeans, that's where real meaning is found, that is the classroom's 
lesson, however indirectly delivered. 

The decisive dynamics which make forced schooling poisonous to healthy human 
development aren't hard to spot. Work in classrooms isn't significant work; it fails to 
satisfy real needs pressing on the individual; it doesn't answer real questions experience 
raises in the young mind; it doesn't contribute to solving any problem encountered in 
actual life. The net effect of making all schoolwork external to individual longings, 
experiences, questions, and problems is to render the victim listless. This phenomenon 
has been well-understood at least since the time of the British enclosure movement which 
forced small farmers off their land into factory work. Growth and mastery come only to 
those who vigorously self-direct. Initiating, creating, doing, reflecting, freely associating, 
enjoying privacy — these are precisely what the structures of schooling are set up to 
prevent, on one pretext or another. 

As I watched it happen, it took about three years to break most kids, three years confined 
to environments of emotional neediness with nothing real to do. In such environments, 
songs, smiles, bright colors, cooperative games, and other tension-breakers do the work 
better than angry words and punishment. Years ago it struck me as more than a little odd 
that the Prussian government was the patron of Heinrich Pestalozzi, inventor of 
multicultural fun-and-games psychological elementary schooling, and of Friedrich 
Froebel, inventor of kindergarten. It struck me as odd that J. P. Morgan's partner, 
Peabody, was instrumental in bringing Prussian schooling to the prostrate South after the 
Civil War. But after a while I began to see that behind the philanthropy lurked a rational 
economic purpose. 

The strongest meshes of the school net are invisible. Constant bidding for a stranger's 
attention creates a chemistry producing the common characteristics of modern 
schoolchildren: whining, dishonesty, malice, treachery, cruelty. Unceasing competition 
for official favor in the dramatic fish bowl of a classroom delivers cowardly children, 
little people sunk in chronic boredom, little people with no apparent purpose for being 
alive. The full significance of the classroom as a dramatic environment, as primarily a 
dramatic environment, has never been properly acknowledged or examined. 

The most destructive dynamic is identical to that which causes caged rats to develop 
eccentric or even violent mannerisms when they press a bar for sustenance on an 
aperiodic reinforcement schedule (one where food is delivered at random, but the rat 
doesn't suspect). Much of the weird behavior school kids display is a function of the 
aperiodic reinforcement schedule. And the endless confinement and inactivity to slowly 
drive children out of their minds. Trapped children, like trapped rats, need close 
management. Any rat psychologist will tell you that. 

The Dangan 

In the first decades of the twentieth century, a small group of soon-to-be-famous 
academics, symbolically led by John Dewey and Edward Thorndike of Columbia 
Teachers College, Ellwood P. Cubberley of Stanford, G. Stanley Hall of Clark, and an 
ambitious handful of others, energized and financed by major corporate and financial 
allies like Morgan, Astor, Whitney, Carnegie, and Rockefeller, decided to bend 
government schooling to the service of business and the political state — as it had been 
done a century before in Prussia. 

Cubberley delicately voiced what was happening this way: "The nature of the national 
need must determine the character of the education provided." National need, of course, 
depends upon point of view. The NEA in 1930 sharpened our understanding by 
specifying in a resolution of its Department of Superintendence that what school served 
was an "effective use of capital" through which our "unprecedented wealth-producing 
power has been gained." When you look beyond the rhetoric of Left and Right, 
pronouncements like this mark the degree to which the organs of schooling had been 
transplanted into the corporate body of the new economy. 

It's important to keep in mind that no harm was meant by any designers or managers of 
this great project. It was only the law of nature as they perceived it, working 
progressively as capitalism itself did for the ultimate good of all. The real force behind 
school effort came from true believers of many persuasions, linked together mainly by 
their belief that family and church were retrograde institutions standing in the way of 
progress. Far beyond the myriad practical details and economic considerations there 
existed a kind of grail-quest, an idea capable of catching the imagination of dreamers and 
firing the blood of zealots. 

The entire academic community here and abroad had been Darwinized and Galtonized by 
this time and to this contingent school seemed an instrument for managing evolutionary 
destiny. In Thorndike's memorable words, conditions for controlled selective breeding 
had to be set up before the new American industrial proletariat "took things into their 
own hands." 

America was a frustrating petri dish in which to cultivate a managerial revolution, 
however, because of its historic freedom traditions. But thanks to the patronage of 
important men and institutions, a group of academics were enabled to visit mainland 
China to launch a modernization project known as the "New Thought Tide." Dewey 
himself lived in China for two years where pedagogical theories were inculcated in the 
Young Turk elements, then tested on a bewildered population which had recently been 
stripped of its ancient form of governance. A similar process was embedded in the new 
Russian state during the 1920s. 

While American public opinion was unaware of this undertaking, some big-city school 
superintendents were wise to the fact that they were part of a global experiment. Listen to 
H.B. Wilson, superintendent of the Topeka schools: 

The introduction of the American school into the Orient has broken up 40 centuries of 
conservatism. It has given us a new China, a new Japan, and is working marked progress 
in Turkey and the Philippines. The schools. ..are in a position to determine the lines of 
progress. {Motivation of School Work,\9\6) 

Thoughts like this don't spring full-blown from the heads of men like Dr. Wilson of 
Topeka. They have to be planted there. 

The Western-inspired and Western-financed Chinese revolution, following hard on the 
heels of the last desperate attempt by China to prevent the British government traffic in 
narcotic drugs there, placed that ancient province in a favorable state of anarchy for 
laboratory tests of mind-alteration technology. Out of this period rose a Chinese universal 
tracking procedure called "The Dangan," a continuous lifelong personnel file exposing 
every student's intimate life history from birth through school and onwards. The Dangan 
constituted the ultimate overthrow of privacy. Today, nobody works in China without a 

By the mid-1960s preliminary work on an American Dangan was underway as 
information reservoirs attached to the school institution began to store personal 
information. A new class of expert like Ralph Tyler of the Carnegie Endowments quietly 
began to urge collection of personal data from students and its unification in computer 
code to enhance cross-referencing. Surreptitious data gathering was justified by Tyler as 
"the moral right of institutions." 

Occasional Letter Number One 

Between 1896 and 1920, a small group of industrialists and financiers, together with their 
private charitable foundations, subsidized university chairs, university researchers, and 
school administrators, spent more money on forced schooling than the government itself 
did. Carnegie and Rockefeller, as late as 1915, were spending more themselves. In this 
laissez-faire fashion a system of modern schooling was constructed without public 
participation. The motives for this are undoubtedly mixed, but it will be useful for you to 
hear a few excerpts from the first mission statement of Rockefeller's General Education 
Board as they occur in a document called Occasional Letter Number One (1906): 

In our dreams. ..people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands. The 
present educational conventions [intellectual and character education] fade from our 
minds, and unhampered by tradition we work our own good will upon a grateful and 
responsive folk. We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into 
philosophers or men of learning or men of science. We have not to raise up from among 
them authors, educators, poets or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great 
artists, painters, musicians, nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of 
whom we have ample supply. The task we set before ourselves is very simple. ..we will 
organize children... and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and 
mothers are doing in an imperfect way. 

This mission statement will reward multiple rereadings. 

Change Agents Infiltrate 

By 1971, the U.S. Office of Education was deeply committed to accessing private lives 
and thoughts of children. In that year it granted contracts for seven volumes of "change- 
agent" studies to the RAND Corporation. Change-agent training was launched with 
federal funding under the Education Professions Development Act. In time the 
fascinating volume Change Agents Guide to Innovation in Education appeared, following 
which grants were awarded to teacher training programs for the development of change 
agents. Six more RAND manuals were subsequently distributed, enlarging the scope of 
change agentry. 

In 1973, Catherine Barrett, president of the National Education Association, said, 
"Dramatic changes in the way we raise our children are indicated, particularly in terms of 
schooling. ..we will be agents of change." By 1989, a senior director of the Mid-Continent 
Regional Educational Laboratory told the fifty governors of American states that year 

assembled to discuss government schooling. "What we're into is total restructuring of 
society." It doesn't get much plainer than that. There is no record of a single governor 

Two years later Gerald Bracey, a leading professional promoter of government schooling, 
wrote in his annual report to clients: "We must continue to produce an uneducated social 
class." Overproduction was the bogey of industrialists in 1900; a century later 
underproduction made possible by dumbed-down schooling had still to keep that disease 
in check. 


The crude power and resources to make twentieth-century forced schooling happen as it 
did came from large corporations and the federal government, from powerful, lone- 
established families, and from the universities, now swollen with recruits from the 
declining Protestant ministry and from once-clerical families. All this is easy enough to 
trace once you know it's there. But the soul of the thing was far more complex, an 
amalgam of ancient religious doctrine, Utopian philosophy, and European/Asiatic strong- 
state politics mixed together and distilled. The great facade behind which this was 
happening was a new enlightenment: scientific scholarship in league with German 
research values brought to America in the last half of the nineteenth century. Modern 
German tradition always assigned universities the primary task of directly serving 
industry and the political state, but that was a radical contradiction of American tradition 
to serve the individual and the family. 

Indiana University provides a sharp insight into the kind of science-fictional 
consciousness developing outside the mostly irrelevant debate conducted in the press 
about schooling, a debate proceeding on early nineteenth century lines. By 1900, a 
special discipline existed at Indiana for elite students, Bionomics. Invitees were hand- 
picked by college president David Starr Jordan, who created and taught the course. It 
dealt with the why and how of producing a new evolutionary ruling class, although that 
characterization, suggesting as it does kings, dukes, and princes, is somewhat misleading. 
In the new scientific era dawning, the ruling class were those managers trained in the 
goals and procedures of new systems. Jordan did so well at Bionomics he was soon 
invited into the major leagues of university existence, (an invitation extended personally 
by rail tycoon Leland Stanford) to become first president of Stanford University, a school 
inspired by Andrew Carnegie's famous "Gospel of Wealth" essay. Jordan remained 
president of Stanford for thirty years. 

Bionomics acquired its direct link with forced schooling in a fortuitous fashion. When he 
left Indiana, Jordan eventually reached back to get his star Bionomics protege, Ellwood 
P. Cubberley, to become dean of Teacher Education at Stanford. In this heady position, 
young Cubberley made himself a reigning aristocrat of the new institution. He wrote a 
history of American schooling which became the standard of the school business for the 
next fifty years; he assembled a national syndicate which controlled administrative posts 

from coast to coast. Cubberley was the man to see, the kingmaker in American school life 
until its pattern was set in stone. 

Did the abstract and rather arcane discipline of Bionomics have any effect on real life? 
Well, consider this: the first formal legislation making forced sterilization a legal act on 
planet Earth was passed, not in Germany or Japan, but in the American state of Indiana, a 
law which became official in the famous 1927 Supreme Court test case Buck vs. Bell. 
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the majority opinion allowing seventeen-year-old 
Carrie Buck to be sterilized against her will to prevent her "degenerate offspring," in 
Holmes' words, from being born. Twenty years after the momentous decision, in the trial 
of German doctors at Nuremberg, Nazi physicians testified that their precedents were 
American — aimed at combating racial degeneracy. The German name for forced 
sterilization was "the Indiana Procedure." 

To say this bionomical spirit infected public schooling is only to say birds fly. Once you 
know it's there, the principle jumps out at you from behind every school bush. It suffused 
public discourse in many areas where it had claimed superior insight. Walter Lippmann, 
in 1922, demanded "severe restrictions on public debate," in light of the allegedly 
enormous number of feeble-minded Americans. The old ideal of participatory democracy 
was insane, according to Lippmann. 

The theme of scientifically controlled breeding interacted in a complex way with the old 
Prussian ideal of a logical society run by experts loyal to the state. It also echoed the idea 
of British state religion and political society that God Himself had appointed the social 
classes. What gradually began to emerge from this was a Darwinian caste-based 
American version of institutional schooling remote-controlled at long distance, 
administered through a growing army of hired hands, layered into intricate pedagogical 
hierarchies on the old Roman principle of divide and conquer. Meanwhile, in the larger 
world, assisted mightily by intense concentration of ownership in the new electronic 
media, developments moved swiftly also. 

In 1928, Edward L. Bernays, godfather of the new craft of spin control we call "public 
relations," told the readers of his book Crystallizing Public Opinion that "invisible 
power" was now in control of every aspect of American life. Democracy, said Bernays, 
was only a front for skillful wire-pulling. The necessary know-how to pull these crucial 
wires was available for sale to businessmen and policy people. Public imagination was 
controlled by shaping the minds of schoolchildren. 

By 1944, a repudiation of Jefferson's idea that mankind had natural rights was resonating 
in every corner of academic life. Any professor who expected free money from 
foundations, corporations, or government agencies had to play the scientific management 
string on his lute. In 1961, the concept of the political state as the sovereign principle 
surfaced dramatically in John F. Kennedy's famous inaugural address in which his 
national audience was lectured, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you 
can do for your country." 

Thirty-five years later, Kennedy's lofty Romanized rhetoric and metaphor were replaced 
by the tough-talking wise guy idiom of Time, instructing its readers in a 1996 cover story 
that "Democracy is in the worst interest of national goals." As Time reporters put it, "The 
modern world is too complex to allow the man or woman in the street to interfere in its 
management." Democracy was deemed a system for losers. 

To a public desensitized to its rights and possibilities, frozen out of the national debate, to 
a public whose fate was in the hands of experts, the secret was in the open for those who 
could read entrails: the original American ideals had been repudiated by their guardians. 
School was best seen from this new perspective as the critical terminal on a production 
line to create a Utopia resembling EPCOT Center, but with one important bionomical 
limitation: it wasn't intended for everyone, at least not for very long, this Utopia. 

Out of Johns Hopkins in 1996 came this chilling news: 

The American economy has grown massively since the mid 1960s, but workers' real 
spendable wages are no higher than they were 30 years ago. 

That from a book called Fat and Mean, about the significance of corporate downsizing. 
During the boom economy of the 1980s and 1990s, purchasing power rose for 20 percent 
of the population and actually declined 13 percent for the other four-fifths. Indeed, after 
inflation was factored in, purchasing power of a working couple in 1995 was only 8 
percent greater than for a single working man in 1905; this steep decline in common 
prosperity over ninety years forced both parents from home and deposited kids in the 
management systems of daycare, extended schooling, and commercial entertainment. 
Despite the century-long harangue that schooling was the cure for unevenly spread 
wealth, exactly the reverse occurred — wealth was 250 percent more concentrated at 
century's end than at its beginning. 

I don't mean to be inflammatory, but it's as if government schooling made people 
dumber, not brighter; made families weaker, not stronger; ruined formal religion with its 
hard-sell exclusion of God; set the class structure in stone by dividing children into 
classes and setting them against one another; and has been midwife to an alarming 
concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a fraction of the national community. 

Waking Up Angry 

Throughout most of my long school career I woke up angry in the morning, went through 
the school day angry, went to sleep angry at night. Anger was the fuel that drove me to 
spend thirty years trying to master this destructive institution. 


Eyeless in Gaza 

he deeds were monstrous, but the doer [Adolf Eichmann] ....was quite ordinary, 
commonplace, and neither demonic nor monstrous. There was no sign in him of firm 
ideological convictions or of specific evil motives, and the only notable characteristic one 
could detect in his past behavior as well as in his behavior during the trial... was 
something entirely negative; it was not stupidity but thoughtlessness.... Might not the 
problem of good and evil, our faculty for telling right from wrong, be connected with our 
faculty for thought 
— Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind 

The School Edition 

I always knew schoolbooks and real books were different. Most kids do. But I remained 
vague on any particular grounds for my prejudice until one day, tired of the simple- 
minded junior high school English curriculum, I decided to teach Moby Dick to eighth- 
grade classes. A friendly assistant principal smuggled a school edition into the book 
purchases and we were able to weigh anchor the next fall. 

What a book! Ishmael, the young seaman who relates Melville's tale, is a half-orphan by 
decree of Fate, sentenced never to know a natural home again. But Ahab is no accidental 
victim. He has consciously willed his own exile from a young wife and child, from the 
fruits of his wealth, and from Earth itself in order to pursue his vocation of getting even. 
Revenge on the natural order is what drives him. 

War against God and family. To me, it defines the essence of Americanness. It's no 
accident that America's three classic novels — Moby Dick, The Scarlet Letter, and 
Huckleberry Finn — each deal with ambiguous families or that each emerges from a time 
not far from either side of the Civil War. America had been an inferno for families, as 
Melville, Hawthorne, and Twain all knew. Midway through our first full century as a 
nation, the nearly universal American experience of homelessness found its voice. 
Ishmael is a half-orphan, Ahab an absentee father and husband, the harpooners expatriate 
men of color; Pearl a bastard, Hester an adulteress, the Reverend Dimmesdale a sexual 
predator and runaway father; Huck Finn, de facto, an adoptee, Jim a twice-uprooted 
African slave. When we think what our schools became we need to recall what a great 
pile of us are homeless. We long for homes we can never have as long as we have 
institutions like school, television, corporation, and government in loco parentis. 

Patricia Lines of the U.S. Department of Education, in trying honorably to discuss what 
the rank and file of homeschoolers actually do, finally declared it seems to be wrapped up 
closely with a feeling of "intense interest in the life of the community." Above anything 
else, she found loyalty in the warp and woof of family: 

Homeschoolers are tremendously loyal as family members, they are suspicious of 
television and other less intimate influences. They eat as a family, they socialize as a 

family, they attend church as a family, they become members of an 
extended. . .homeschooling community. 

American great fiction is about individuals broken from family. The closest they come to 
satisfying the universal yearning is a struggle for surrogates — like the strange connection 
between Pearl, Hester, and the dark forest. America's most fascinating storytellers focus 
on the hollowness of American public life. We have no place to go when work is done. 
Our inner life long extinguished, our public work in remaking the world can never be 
done because personal homework isn't available to us. There's no institutional solace for 
this malady. In outrage at our lonely fate, we lay siege to the family sanctuary wherever it 
survives, as Ahab lay siege to the seas for his accursed Whale. 

For this and other reasons long lost, I decided to teach Moby Dick to my eighth-grade 
classes. Including the dumb ones. I discovered right away the white whale was just too 
big for forty-five-minute bell breaks; I couldn't divide it comfortably to fit the schedule. 
Melville's book is too vast to say just what the right way to teach it really is. It speaks to 
every reader privately. To grapple with it demanded elastic time, not the fixed bell breaks 
of junior high. Indeed, it offered so many choices of purpose — some aesthetic, some 
historical, some social, some philosophical, some theological, some dramatic, some 
economic — that compelling the attention of a room full of young people to any one 
aspect seemed willful and arbitrary. 

Soon after I began teaching Moby Dick I realized the school edition wasn't a real book 
but a kind of disguised indoctrination providing all the questions, a scientific addition to 
the original text designed to make the book teacher-proof and student-proof. If you even 
read those questions (let alone answered them) there would be no chance ever again for a 
private exchange between you and Melville; the invisible editor would have preempted it. 

The editors of the school edition provided a package of prefabricated questions and more 
than a hundred chapter-by-chapter abstracts and interpretations of their own. Many 
teachers consider this a gift — it does the thinking for them. If I didn't assign these 
questions, kids wanted to know why not. Their parents wanted to know why not. Unless 
everyone duly parroted the party line set down by the book editor, children used to 
getting high marks became scared and angry. 

The school text of Moby Dick had been subtly denatured; worse than useless, it was 
actually dangerous. So I pitched it out and bought a set of undoctored books with my own 
money. The school edition of Moby Dick asked all the right questions, so I had to throw it 
away. Real books don't do that. Real books demand people actively participate by asking 
their own questions. Books that show you the best questions to ask aren't just stupid, they 
hurt the mind under the guise of helping it — exactly the way standardized tests do. Real 
books, unlike schoolbooks, can't be standardized. They are eccentric; no book fits 

If you think about it, schooled people, like schoolbooks, are much alike. Some folks find 
that desirable for economic reasons. The discipline organizing our economy and our 

politics derives from mathematical and interpretive exercises, the accuracy of which 
depends upon customers being much alike and very predictable. People who read too 
many books get quirky. We can't have too much eccentricity or it would bankrupt us. 
Market research depends on people behaving as //they were alike. It doesn't really 
matter whether they are or not. 

One way to see the difference between schoolbooks and real books like Moby Dick is to 
examine different procedures which separate librarians, the custodians of real books, 
from schoolteachers, the custodians of schoolbooks. To begin with, libraries are usually 
comfortable, clean, and quiet. They are orderly places where you can actually read 
instead of just pretending to read. 

For some reason libraries are never age-segregated, nor do they presume to segregate 
readers by questionable tests of ability any more than farms or forests or oceans do. The 
librarian doesn't tell me what to read, doesn't tell me what sequence of reading I have to 
follow, doesn't grade my reading. The librarian trusts me to have a worthwhile purpose 
of my own. I appreciate that and trust the library in return. 

Some other significant differences between libraries and schools: the librarian lets me ask 
my own questions and helps me when I want help, not when she decides I need it. If I 
feel like reading all day long, that's okay with the librarian, who doesn't compel me to 
stop at intervals by ringing a bell in my ear. The library keeps its nose out of my home. It 
doesn't send letters to my family, nor does it issue orders on how I should use my reading 
time at home. 

The library doesn't play favorites; it's a democratic place as seems proper in a 
democracy. If the books I want are available, I get them, even if that decision deprives 
someone more gifted and talented than I am. The library never humiliates me by posting 
ranked lists of good readers. It presumes good reading is its own reward and doesn't need 
to be held up as an object lesson to bad readers. One of the strangest differences between 
a library and a school is that you almost never see a kid behaving badly in a library. 

The library never makes predictions about my future based on my past reading habits. It 
tolerates eccentric reading because it realizes free men and women are often very 
eccentric. Finally, the library has real books, not schoolbooks. I know the Moby Dick. I 
find in the library won't have questions at the end of the chapter or be scientifically 
bowdlerized. Library books are not written by collective pens. At least not yet. 

Real books conform to the private curriculum of each author, not to the invisible 
curriculum of a corporate bureaucracy. Real books transport us to an inner realm of 
solitude and unmonitored mental reflection in a way schoolbooks and computer programs 
can't. If they were not devoid of such capacity, they would jeopardize school routines 
devised to control behavior. Real books conform to the private curriculum of particular 
authors, not to the demands of bureaucracy. 

Intellectual Espionage 

At the start of WWII millions of men showed up at registration offices to take low-level 
academic tests before being inducted. 1 The years of maximum mobilization were 1942 
to 1944; the fighting force had been mostly schooled in the 1930s, both those inducted 
and those turned away. Of the 18 million men were tested, 17,280,000 of them were 
judged to have the minimum competence in reading required to be a soldier, a 96 percent 
literacy rate. Although this was a 2 percent fall-off from the 98 percent rate among 
voluntary military applicants ten years earlier, the dip was so small it didn't worry 

WWII was over in 1945. Six years later another war began in Korea. Several million men 
were tested for military service but this time 600,000 were rejected. Literacy in the draft 
pool had dropped to 81 percent, even though all that was needed to classify a soldier as 
literate was fourth- grade reading proficiency. In the few short years from the beginning 
of WWII to Korea, a terrifying problem of adult illiteracy had appeared. The Korean War 
group received most of its schooling in the 1940s, and it had more years in school with 
more professionally trained personnel and more scientifically selected textbooks than the 
WWII men, yet it could not read, write, count, speak, or think as well as the earlier, less- 
schooled contingent. 

A third American war began in the mid-1960s. By its end in 1973 the number of men 
found noninductible by reason of inability to read safety instructions, interpret road signs, 
decipher orders, and so on — in other words, the number found illiterate — had reached 27 
percent of the total pool. Vietnam-era young men had been schooled in the 1950s and the 
1960s — much better schooled than either of the two earlier groups — but the 4 percent 
illiteracy of 1941 which had transmuted into the 19 percent illiteracy of 1952 had now 
had grown into the 27 percent illiteracy of 1970. Not only had the fraction of competent 
readers dropped to 73 percent but a substantial chunk of even those were only barely 
adequate; they could not keep abreast of developments by reading a newspaper, they 
could not read for pleasure, they could not sustain a thought or an argument, they could 
not write well enough to manage their own affairs without assistance. 

Consider how much more compelling this steady progression of intellectual blindness is 
when we track it through army admissions tests rather than college admissions scores and 
standardized reading tests, which inflate apparent proficiency by frequently changing the 
way the tests are scored. 

Looking back, abundant data exist from states like Connecticut and Massachusetts to 
show that by 1 840 the incidence of complex literacy in the United States was between 93 
and 100 percent wherever such a thing mattered. According to the Connecticut census of 
1840, only one citizen out of every 579 was illiterate and you probably don't want to 
know, not really, what people in those days considered literate; it's too embarrassing. 
Popular novels of the period give a clue: Last of the Mohicans, published in 1826, sold so 
well that a contemporary equivalent would have to move 10 million copies to match it. If 
you pick up an uncut version you find yourself in a dense thicket of philosophy, history, 
culture, manners, politics, geography, analysis of human motives and actions, all 
conveyed in data-rich periodic sentences so formidable only a determined and well- 

educated reader can handle it nowadays. Yet in 1818 we were a small-farm nation 
without colleges or universities to speak of. Could those simple folk have had more 
complex minds than our own? 

By 1940, the literacy figure for all states stood at 96 percent for whites, 80 percent for 
blacks. Notice that for all the disadvantages blacks labored under, four of five were 
nevertheless literate. Six decades later, at the end of the twentieth century, the National 
Adult Literacy Survey and the National Assessment of Educational Progress say 40 
percent of blacks and 17 percent of whites can't read at all. Put another way, black 
illiteracy doubled, white illiteracy quadrupled. Before you think of anything else in 
regard to these numbers, think of this: we spend three to four times as much real money 
on schooling as we did sixty years ago, but sixty years ago virtually everyone, black or 
white, could read. 

In their famous bestseller, The Bell Curve, prominent social analysts Charles Murray and 
Richard Herrnstein say that what we're seeing are the results of selective breeding in 
society. Smart people naturally get together with smart people, dumb people with dumb 
people. As they have children generation after generation, the differences between the 
groups gets larger and larger. That sounds plausible and the authors produce impressive 
mathematics to prove their case, but their documentation shows they are entirely ignorant 
of the military data available to challenge their contention. The terrifying drop in literacy 
between World War II and Korea happened in a decade, and even the brashest survival- 
of-the-fittest theorist wouldn't argue evolution unfolds that way. The Bell Curve writers 
say black illiteracy (and violence) is genetically programmed, but like many academics 
they ignore contradictory evidence. 

For example, on the matter of violence inscribed in black genes, the inconvenient parallel 
is to South Africa where 3 1 million blacks live, the same count living in the United 
States. Compare numbers of blacks who died by violence in South Africa in civil war 
conditions during 1989, 1990, and 1991 with our own peacetime mortality statistics and 
you find that far from exceeding the violent death toll in the United States or even 
matching it, South Africa had proportionately less than one-quarter the violent death rate 
of American blacks. If more contemporary comparisons are sought, we need only 
compare the current black literacy rate in the United States (56 percent) with the rate in 
Jamaica (98.5 percent) — a figure considerably higher than the American white literacy 
rate (83 percent). 

If not heredity, what then? Well, one change is indisputable, well-documented and easy 
to track. During WWII, American public schools massively converted to non-phonetic 
ways of teaching reading. On the matter of violence alone this would seem to have 
impact: according to the Justice Department, 80 percent of the incarcerated violent 
criminal population is illiterate or nearly so (and 67 percent of all criminals locked up). 
There seems to be a direct connection between the humiliation poor readers experience 
and the life of angry criminals. 2 

As reading ability plummeted in America after WWII, crime soared, so did out-of- 
wedlock births, which doubled in the 1950s and doubled again in the '60s, when bizarre 
violence for the first time became commonplace in daily life. 

When literacy was first abandoned as a primary goal by schools, white people were in a 
better position than black people because they inherited a three-hundred-year-old 
American tradition of learning to read at home by matching spoken sound with letters, 
thus home assistance was able to correct the deficiencies of dumbed-down schools for 
whites. But black people had been forbidden to learn to read under slavery, and as late as 
1930 only averaged three to four years of schooling, so they were helpless when teachers 
suddenly stopped teaching children to read, since they had no fall-back position. Not 
helpless because of genetic inferiority but because they had to trust school authorities to a 
much greater extent than white people. 

Back in 1952 the Army quietly began hiring hundreds of psychologists to find out how 
600,000 high school graduates had successfully faked illiteracy. Regna Wood sums up 
the episode this way: 

After the psychologists told the officers that the graduates weren't faking, Defense 
Department administrators knew that something terrible had happened in grade school 
reading instruction. And they knew it had started in the thirties. Why they remained 
silent, no one knows. The switch back to reading instruction that worked for everyone 
should have been made then. But it wasn't. 

In 1882, fifth graders read these authors in their Appleton School Reader. William 
Shakespeare, Henry Thoreau, George Washington, Sir Walter Scott, Mark Twain, 
Benjamin Franklin, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Bunyan, Daniel Webster, Samuel 
Johnson, Lewis Carroll, Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and others like them. 
In 1995, a student teacher of fifth graders in Minneapolis wrote to the local newspaper, "I 
was told children are not to be expected to spell the following words correctly: back, big, 
call, came, can, day, did, dog, down, get, good, have, he, home, if, in, is, it, like, little, 
man, morning, mother, my, night, off, out, over, people, play, ran, said, saw, she, some, 
soon, their, them, there, time, two, too, up, us, very, water, we, went, where, when, will, 
would, etc. Is this nuts?" 

1 The discussion here is based on Regna Lee Wood's work as printed in Chester Finn and Diane Ravitch's 
Network News and Views (and reprinted many other places). Together with other statistical indictments, 
from the National Adult Literacy Survey, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and a host of 
other credible sources, it provides chilling evidence of the disastrous turn in reading methodology. But in a 
larger sense the author urges every reader to trust personal judgment over "numerical" evidence, whatever 
the source. During the writer's 30-year classroom experience, the decline in student ability to comprehend 
difficult text was marked, while the ability to extract and parrot "information" in the form of "facts" was 
much less affected. This is a product of deliberate pedagogy, to what end is the burden of my essay. 

2 A particularly clear example of the dynamics hypothesized to cause the correlation can be found in 
Michael S. Brunner's monograph, "Reduced Recidivism and Increased Employment Opportunity Through 
Research-Based Reading Instruction," United States Department of Justice (June 1992). Brunner's recent 

book Retarding America, written as a Visiting Fellow for the U.S. Department of Justice, is recommended. 
A growing body of documentation ties illiteracy causally to violent crime. A study by Dennis Hogenson 
titled "Reading Failure and Juvenile Delinquency" (Reading Reform Foundation) attempted to correlate 
teenage aggression with age, family size, number of parents present in home, rural versus urban 
environment, socio-economic status, minority group membership, and religious preference. None of these 
factors produced a significant correlation. But one did. As the author reports, "Only reading failure was 
found to correlate with aggression in both populations of delinquent boys." An organization of ex-prisoners 
testified before the Sub-Committee on Education of the U.S. Congress that in its opinion illiteracy was an 
important causative factor in crime "for the illiterate have very few honest ways to make a living." In 1994 
the U.S. Department of Education acknowledged that two-thirds of all incarcerated criminals have poor 

Looking Behind Appearances 

Do you think class size, teacher compensation, and school revenue have much to do with 
education quality? If so, the conclusion is inescapable that we are living in a golden age. 
From 1955 to 1991 the U.S. pupil/teacher ratio dropped 40 percent, the average salary of 
teachers rose 50 percent (in real terms) and the annual expense per pupil, inflation 
adjusted, soared 350 percent. What other hypothesis, then, might fit the strange data I'm 
about to present? 

Forget the 10 percent drop in SAT and Achievement Test scores the press beats to death 
with regularity; how do you explain the 37 percent decline since 1972 in students who 
score above 600 on the SAT? This is an absolute decline, not a relative one. It is not 
affected by an increase in unsuitable minds taking the test or by an increase in the 
numbers. The absolute body count of smart students is down drastically with a test not 
more difficult than yesterday's but considerably less so. 

What should be made of a 50 percent decline among the most rarefied group of test- 
takers, those who score above 750? In 1972, there were 2,817 American students who 
reached this pinnacle; only 1,438 did in 1994 — when kids took a much easier test. Can a 
50 percent decline occur in twenty-two years without signaling that some massive 
leveling in the public school mind is underway? 1 

In a real sense where your own child is concerned you might best forget scores on these 
tests entirely as a reliable measure of what they purport to assess. I wouldn't deny that 
mass movements in these scores in one direction or another indicate something is going 
on, and since the correlation between success in schooling and success on these tests is 
close, then significant score shifts are certainly measuring changes in understanding. This 
is a difficult matter for anyone to sort out, since many desirable occupational categories 
(and desirable university seats even before that) are reserved for those who score well. 
The resultant linkage of adult income with test scores then creates the illusion these tests 
are separating cream from milk, but the results are rigged in advance by foreclosing 
opportunity to those screened out by the test! In a humble illustration, if you only let 
students with high scores on the language component of the SATs cut hair, eventually it 
would appear that verbal facility and grooming of tresses had some vital link with each 

other. Between 1960 and 1998 the nonteaching bureaucracy of public schools grew 500 
percent, but oversight was concentrated into fewer and fewer hands. The 40,520 school 
districts with elected boards this nation had in 1960 shriveled to 15,000 by 1998. 

On the college rung of the school ladder something queer was occurring, too. Between 
1960 and 1984 the quality of undergraduate education at America's fifty best-known 
colleges and universities altered substantially. According to a 1996 report by the National 
Association of Scholars, these schools stopped providing "broad and rigorous exposure to 
major areas of knowledge" for the average student, even at decidedly un-average 
universities like Yale and Stanford. 

In 1964, more than half of these institutions required a thesis or comprehensive for the 
bachelor's degree; by 1993, 12 percent did; over the same period, the average number of 
classroom days fell 16 percent, and requirements in math, natural science, philosophy, 
literature, composition, and history almost vanished. Rhetoric, most potent of the active 
literacies, completely vanished, and a foreign language, once required at 96 percent of the 
great colleges, fell to 64 percent. 

According to The Journal of the American Medical Association (December 1995), 33 
percent of all patients cannot read and understand instructions on how often to take 
medication, notices about doctor's appointments, consent forms, labels on prescription 
bottles, insurance forms, and other simple parts of self-care. They are rendered helpless 
by inability to read. Concerning those behind the nation's prison walls (a population that 
has tripled since 1980), the National Center for Education Statistics stated in a 1996 
report that 80 percent of all prisoners could not interpret a bus schedule, understand a 
news article or warranty instructions, or read maps, schedules, or payroll forms. Nor 
could they balance a checkbook. Forty percent could not calculate the cost of a purchase. 

Once upon a time we were a new nation that allowed ordinary citizens to learn how to 
read well and encouraged them to read anything they thought would be useful. Close 
reading of tough-minded writing is still the best, cheapest, and quickest method known 
for learning to think for yourself. This invitation to commoners extended by America was 
the most revolutionary pedagogy of all. 

Reading, and rigorous discussion of that reading in a way that obliges you to formulate a 
position and support it against objections, is an operational definition of education in its 
most fundamental civilized sense. No one can do this very well without learning ways of 
paying attention: from a knowledge of diction and syntax, figures of speech, etymology, 
and so on, to a sharp ability to separate the primary from the subordinate, understand 
allusion, master a range of modes of presentation, test truth, and penetrate beyond the 
obvious to the profound messages of text. Reading, analysis, and discussion are the way 
we develop reliable judgment, the principal way we come to penetrate covert movements 
behind the facade of public appearances. Without the ability to read and argue we're just 
geese to be plucked. 

Just as experience is necessary to understand abstraction, so the reverse is true. 
Experience can only be mastered by extracting general principles out of the mass of 
details. In the absence of a perfect universal mentor, books and other texts are the best 
and cheapest stand-ins, always available to those who know where to look. Watching 
details of an assembly line or a local election unfold isn't very educational unless you 
have been led in careful ways to analyze the experience. Reading is the skeleton key for 
all who lack a personal tutor of quality. 2 

Reading teaches nothing more important than the state of mind in which you find 
yourself absolutely alone with the thoughts of another mind, a matchless form of intimate 
rapport available only to those with the ability to block out distraction and concentrate. 
Hence the urgency of reading well if you read for power. 

Once you trust yourself to go mind-to-mind with great intellects, artists, scientists, 
warriors, and philosophers, you are finally free. In America, before we had forced 
schooling, an astonishing range of unlikely people knew reading was like Samson's 
locks — something that could help make them formidable, that could teach them their 
rights and how to defend those rights, could lead them toward self-determination, free 
from intimidation by experts. These same unlikely people knew that the power bestowed 
through reading could give them insight into the ways of the human heart, so they would 
not be cheated or fooled so easily, and that it could provide an inexhaustible store of 
useful knowledge — advice on how to do just about anything. 

By 1812, Pierre DuPont was claiming that barely four in a thousand Americans were 
unable to read well and that the young had skill in argumentation thanks to daily debates 
at the common breakfast table. By 1820, there was even more evidence of Americans' 
avid reading habits, when 5 million copies of James Fenimore Cooper's complex and 
allusive novels were sold, along with an equal number of Noah Webster's didactic 
Speller — to a population of dirt farmers under 20 million in size. 

In 1835, Richard Cobden announced there was six times as much newspaper reading in 
the United States as in England, and the census figures of 1 840 gave fairly exact evidence 
that a sensational reading revolution had taken place without any exhortation on the part 
of public moralists and social workers, but because common people had the initiative and 
freedom to learn. In North Carolina, the worst situation of any state surveyed, eight out of 
nine could still read and write. 

In 1853, Per Siljestromm, a Swedish visitor, wrote, "In no country in the world is the 
taste for reading so diffuse as among the common people in America." The American 
Almanac observed grandly, "Periodical publications, especially newspapers, disseminate 
knowledge throughout all classes of society and exert an amazing influence in forming 
and giving effect to public opinion." It noted the existence of over a thousand 
newspapers. In this nation of common readers, the spiritual longings of ordinary people 
shaped the public discourse. Ordinary people who could read, though not privileged by 
wealth, power, or position, could see through the fraud of social class or the even grander 
fraud of official expertise. That was the trouble. 

In his book The New Illiterates, author Sam Blumenfeld gives us the best introduction to 
what went wrong with reading in the United States. He also gives us insight into why 
learning to read needn't be frustrating or futile. A typical letter from one of his readers 
boasts of her success in imparting the alphabet code to four children under the age of five 
by the simple method of practice with letter sounds. One day she found her three-year-old 
working his way through a lesson alone at the kitchen table, reading S-am, Sam, m-an, 
man, and so on. Her verdict on the process: "I had just taught him his letter sounds. He 
picked [the rest] up and did it himself. That's how simple it is." 

1 The critics of schooling who concentrate on fluctuations in standardized test scores to ground their case 
against the institution are committing a gross strategic mistake for several reasons, the most obvious of 
which is that in doing so they must first implicitly acknowledge the accuracy of such instruments in ranking 
every member of the youth population against every other member, hence the justice of using such 
measures to allocate privileges and rewards. An even larger folly occurs because the implicit validation of 
these tests by the attention of school critics cedes the entire terrain of scientific pedagogy, armoring it 
against strong counter-measures by recruiting the opposition, in effect, to support teaching to the test. The 
final folly lies in the ease with which these measures can be rigged to produce whatever public effects are 

2 In a fascinating current illustration of the power of books, black female tennis star Venus Williams' father 
acknowledged in a press interview for the Toronto Globe that he had, indeed, set out to create a tennis 
millionaire from his infant daughter even before her birth. Mr. Williams, who had no knowledge 
whatsoever of the game of tennis, and who was reared in a poor home in the South by his single mother, 
had his ambition piqued by witnessing a young woman on television receiving a $48,000 check for playing 
tennis successfully. At that moment he proposed to his wife that they set out to make their unborn children 
tennis millionaires. How did he learn the game? By reading books, he says, and renting videos. That, and 
common sense discipline, was all that Venus and sister Serena needed to become millionaire teenagers. 

The Sudbury Valley School 

I know a school for kids ages three to eighteen that doesn't teach anybody to read, yet 
everyone who goes there learns to do it, most very well. It's the beautiful Sudbury Valley 
School, twenty miles west of Boston in the old Nathaniel Bowditch "cottage" (which 
looks suspiciously like a mansion), a place ringed by handsome outbuildings, a private 
lake, woods, and acres of magnificent grounds. Sudbury is a private school, but with a 
tuition under $4,000 a year it's considerably cheaper than a seat in a New York City 
public school. At Sudbury kids teach themselves to read; they learn at many different 
ages, even into the teen years (though that's rare). When each kid is ready he or she self- 
instructs, if such a formal label isn't inappropriate for such a natural undertaking. During 
this time they are free to request as much adult assistance as needed. That usually isn't 

In thirty years of operation, Sudbury has never had a single kid who didn't learn to read. 
All this is aided by a magnificent school library on open shelves where books are 
borrowed and returned on the honor system. About 65 percent of Sudbury kids go on to 
good colleges. The place has never seen a case of dyslexia. (That's not to say some kids 
don't reverse letters and such from time to time, but such conditions are temporary and 

self-correcting unless institutionalized into a disease.) So Sudbury doesn't even teach 
reading yet all its kids learn to read and even like reading. What could be going on there 
that we don't understand? 

Bootie Zimmer 

The miracle woman who taught me to read was my mother, Bootie. Bootie never got a 
college degree, but nobody despaired about that because daily life went right along then 
without too many college graduates. Here was Bootie's scientific method: she would hold 
me on her lap and read to me while she ran her finger under the words. That was it, 
except to read always with a lively expression in her voice and eyes, to answer my 
questions, and from time to time to give me some practice with different letter sounds. 

One thing more is important. For a long time we would sing, "A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, 

I, J, K, LMNOP..." and so on, every single day. We learned to love each letter. She would 
read tough stories as well as easy ones. Truth is, I don't think she could readily tell the 
difference any more than I could. The books had some pictures but only a few; words 
made up the center of attention. Pictures have nothing at all to do with learning to love 
reading, except too many of them will pretty much guarantee that it never happens. 

Over fifty years ago my mother Bootie Zimmer chose to teach me to read well. She had 
no degrees, no government salary, no outside encouragement, yet her private choice to 
make me a reader was my passport to a good and adventurous life. Bootie, the daughter 
of a Bavarian printer, said "Nuts!" to the Prussian system. She voted for her own right to 
decide, and for that I will always be in her debt. She gave me a love of language and it 
didn't cost much. Anybody could have the same, if schooling hadn't abandoned its duty 
so flagrantly. 

False Premises 

The religious purpose of modern schooling was announced clearly by the legendary 
University of Wisconsin sociologist Edward A. Ross in 1901 in his famous book, Social 
Control. Your librarian should be able to locate a copy for you without much trouble. In 
it Ed Ross wrote these words for his prominent following: "Plans are underway to replace 
community, family, and church with propaganda, education, and mass media.... the State 
shakes loose from Church, reaches out to School.... People are only little plastic lumps of 
human dough." Social Control revolutionized the discipline of sociology and had 
powerful effects on the other human sciences: in social science it guided the direction of 
political science, economics, and psychology; in biology it influenced genetics, eugenics, 
and psychobiology. It played a critical role in the conception and design of molecular 

There you have it in a nutshell. The whole problem with modern schooling. It rests on a 
nest of false premises. People are not little plastic lumps of dough. They are not blank 
tablets as John Locke said they were, they are not machines as de La Mettrie hoped, not 
vegetables as Friedrich Froebel, inventor of kindergartens, hypothesized, not organic 
mechanisms as Wilhelm Wundt taught every psychology department in America at the 

turn of the century, nor are they repertoires of behaviors as Watson and Skinner wanted. 
They are not, as the new crop of systems thinkers would have it, mystically harmonious 
microsystems interlocking with grand macrosystems in a dance of atomic forces. I don't 
want to be crazy about this; locked in a lecture hall or a bull session there's probably no 
more harm in these theories than reading too many Italian sonnets all at one sitting. But 
when each of these suppositions is sprung free to serve as a foundation for school 
experiments, it leads to frightfully oppressive practices. 

One of the ideas that empty-child thinking led directly to was the notion that human 
breeding could be enhanced or retarded as plant and animal breeding was — by scientific 
gardeners and husbandmen. Of course, the time scale over which this was plotted to 
happen was quite long. Nobody expected it to be like breeding fruit flies, but it was a 
major academic, governmental, and even military item generously funded until Hitler's 
proactive program (following America's lead) grew so embarrassing by 1939 that our 
own projects and plans were made more circumspect. 

Back at the beginning of the twentieth century, the monstrously influential Edward 
Thorndike of Columbia Teachers College said that school would establish conditions for 
"selective breeding before the masses take things into their own hands." The religious 
purpose of modern schooling was embarrassingly evident back when Ross and Thorndike 
were on center stage, but they were surrounded by many like-minded friends. Another 
major architect of standardized testing, H.H. Goddard, said in his book Human Efficiency 
(1920) that government schooling was about "the perfect organization of the hive." He 
said standardized testing was a way to make lower classes recognize their own inferiority. 
Like wearing a dunce cap, it would discourage them from breeding and having ambition. 
Goddard was head of the Psychology Department at Princeton, so imagine the effect he 
had on the minds of the doctoral candidates he coached, and there were hundreds. We 
didn't leave the religious purpose of modern schooling back in the early years of the 
century. In April of 1996, Al Shanker of the AFT said in his regular New York Times 
split-page advertisement that every teacher was really a priest. 

A System Of State Propaganda 

Something strange is going on in schools and has been going on for quite some time. 
Whatever it is does not arise from the main American traditions. As closely as I can track 
the thing through the attitudes, practices, and stated goals of the shadowy crew who make 
a good living skulking around educational "laboratories," think tanks, and foundations, 
we are experiencing an attempt, successful so far, to reimpose the strong-state, strong 
social class attitudes of England and Germany on the United States — the very attitudes 
we threw off in the American Revolution. And in this counter-revolution the state 
churches of England and Germany have been replaced by the secular church of forced 
government schooling. 

Advertising, public relations, and stronger forms of quasi-religious propaganda are so 
pervasive in our schools, even in "alternative" schools, that independent judgment is 
suffocated in mass-produced secondary experiences and market-tested initiatives. 

Lifetime Learning Systems, one of the many new corporations formed to dig gold from 
our conditions of schooling, announced to its corporate clients, "School is the ideal time 
to influence attitudes, build long-term loyalties, introduce new products, test-market, 
promote sampling and trial usage — and above all — to generate immediate sales." 

Arnold Toynbee, the establishment's favorite historian in mid-twentieth-century 
America, said in his monumental Study of History that the original promise of universal 
education had been destroyed as soon as the school laws were passed, a destruction 
caused by "the possibility of turning education to account as a means of amusement for 
the masses" and a means of "profit for the enterprising persons by whom the amusement 
is purveyed." This opportunistic conversion quickly followed mass schooling's 
introduction when fantastic profit potential set powerful forces in motion: 

The bread of universal education is no sooner cast upon the water than a shoal of sharks 
arises from the depths and devours the children's bread under the educator's very eyes. 

In Toynbee 's analysis "the dates speak for themselves": 

The edifice of universal education was, roughly speaking, completed... in 1870; and the 
Yellow Press was invented twenty years later — as soon, that is, as the first generation of 
children from the national schools had acquired sufficient purchasing power — by a stroke 
of irresponsible genius which had divined that the educational labour of love could be 
made to yield a royal profit. 

But vultures attending the inception of forced compulsion schooling attracted more 
ferocious predators: 

[The commercial institutions that set about at once to prey on forced mass schooling] 
attracted the attention of the rulers of modern... national states. If press lords could make 
millions by providing idle amusement for the half-educated, serious statesman could 
draw, not money perhaps, but power from the same source. The modern dictators have 
deposed the press lords and substituted for crude and debased private entertainment an 
equally crude and debased system of state propaganda. 

The Ideology Of The Text 

Looking back on the original period of school formation in her study of American history 
textbooks, America Revised, Frances Fitzgerald remarked on the profound changes that 
emerged following suggestions issued by sociologists and social thinkers in the late 
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The original history of our institutions and the 
documents which protect our unique liberties gradually began to be effaced. Fitzgerald 
raises the puzzle of textbook alteration: 

The ideology that lies behind these texts is rather difficult to define.... it does not fit usual 
political patterns.... the texts never indicate any line of action.... authors avoid what they 
choose to and some of them avoid main issues.... they fail to develop any original 

ideas. ...they confuse social sciences with science.... clouds of jargon.... leave out 
ideas. ...historical names are given no character, they are cipher people. ...there are no 
conflicts, only "problems' '. [emphasis added] 

Indeed, the texts may be unfathomable, and that may be the editorial intent. 

The National Adult Literacy Survey 

In 1982, Anthony Oettinger, a member of the private discussion group called the Council 
on Foreign Relations, asked an audience of communications executives this question: 
"Do we really have to have everybody literate — writing and reading in the traditional 
sense — when we have means through our technology to achieve a new flowering of oral 
communication?" Oettinger suggested "our idea of literacy" is "obsolete." Eighty-three 
years earlier John Dewey had written in "The Primary Education Fetish" that "the plea for 
the predominance of learning to read in early school life because of the great importance 
attaching to literature seems to be a perversion." 

For the balance of this discussion I'm going to step into deeper water, first reviewing 
what reading in a Western alphabet really means and what makes it a reasonably easy 
skill to transmit or to self-teach, and then tackling what happened to deprive the ordinary 
person of the ability to manage it very well. I want to first show you how, then answer the 
more speculative question why. 

The National Adult Literacy Survey represents 190 million U.S. adults over age sixteen 
with an average school attendance of 12.4 years. The survey is conducted by the 
Educational Testing Service of Princeton, New Jersey. It ranks adult Americans into five 
levels. Here is its 1993 analysis: 

1. Forty-two million Americans over the age of sixteen can't read. Some of this 
group can write their names on Social Security cards and fill in height, weight, 
and birth spaces on application forms. 

2. Fifty million can recognize printed words on a fourth- and fifth-grade level. They 
cannot write simple messages or letters. 

3. Fifty- five to sixty million are limited to sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade reading. 
A majority of this group could not figure out the price per ounce of peanut butter 
in a 20-ounce jar costing $1 .99 when told they could round the answer off to a 
whole number. 

4. Thirty million have ninth- and tenth-grade reading proficiency. This group (and 
all preceding) cannot understand a simplified written explanation of the 
procedures used by attorneys and judges in selecting juries. 

5. About 3.5 percent of the 26,000-member sample demonstrated literacy skills 
adequate to do traditional college study, a level 30 percent of all U.S. high school 
students reached in 1940, and which 30 percent of secondary students in other 

developed countries can reach today. This last fact alone should warn you how 
misleading comparisons drawn from international student competitions really are, 
since the samples each country sends are small elite ones, unrepresentative of the 
entire student population. But behind the bogus superiority a real one is 

6. Ninety-six and a half percent of the American population is mediocre to illiterate 
where deciphering print is concerned. This is no commentary on their 
intelligence, but without ability to take in primary information from print and to 
interpret it they are at the mercy of commentators who tell them what things 
mean. A working definition of immaturity might include an excessive need for 
other people to interpret information for us. 

Certainly it's possible to argue that bad readers aren't victims at all but perpetrators, 
cursed by inferior biology to possess only shadows of intellect. That's what bell-curve 
theory, evolutionary theory, aristocratic social theory, eugenics theory, strong-state 
political theory, and some kinds of theology are about. All agree most of us are inferior, 
if not downright dangerous. The integrity of such theoretical outlooks — at least where 
reading was concerned — took a stiff shot on the chin from America. Here, democratic 
practice allowed a revolutionary generation to learn how to read. Those granted the 
opportunity took advantage of it brilliantly. 

Name Sounds, Not Things 

So how was the murder of American reading ability pulled off? I'll tell you in a second, 
but come back first to classical Greece where the stupendous invention of the alphabet by 
Phoenicians was initially understood. The Phoenicians had an alphabetic language used 
to keep accounts, but the Greeks were the first to guess correctly that revolutionary power 
could be unleashed by transcending mere lists, using written language for the permanent 
storage of analysis, exhortation, visions, and other things. After a period of experiment 
the Greeks came up with a series of letters to represent sounds of their language. Like the 
Phoenicians, they recognized the value of naming each letter in a way distinct from its 
sound value — as every human being has a name distinct from his or her personality, as 
numbers have names for reference. 

Naming sounds rather than things was the breakthrough! While the number of things to 
be pictured is impossibly large, the number of sounds is strictly limited. In English, for 
example, most people recognize only forty- four. 1 

The problem, which American families once largely solved for themselves, is this: in 
English, a Latin alphabet has been imposed on a Germanic language with multiple non- 
Germanic borrowings, and it doesn't quite fit. Our 44 sounds are spelled 400+ different 
ways. That sounds horrible, but in reality in the hands of even a mediocre teacher, it's 
only annoying; in the hands of a good one, a thrilling challenge. Actually, 85 percent of 
the vast word stock of English can be read with knowledge of only 70 of the phonograms. 
A large number of the remaining irregularities seldom occur and can be remastered on an 
as-needed basis. Meanwhile a whole armory of mnemonic tricks like "If a 'c' I chance to 

spy, place the 'e' before the 'i'" exists to get new readers over the common humps. 
Inexpensive dictionaries, spell-check typewriters, computers, and other technology are 
readily available these days to silently coach the fearful, but in my experience, that "fear" 
is neither warranted nor natural. Instead, it is engendered. Call it good business practice. 

Also, communicating abstractions in picture language is a subtlety requiring more time 
and training to master than is available for most of us. Greeks now could organize 
ambitious concepts abstractly in written language, communicating accurately with each 
other over space and time much more readily than their competitors. 

According to Mitford Mathews: 2 

The secret of their phenomenal advance was in their conception of the nature of a word. 
They reasoned that words were sounds or combinations of ascertainable sounds, and they 
held inexorably to the basic proposition that writing, properly executed, was a guide to 
sound, reading. A number of other good treatments are available for the newcomer. 

Learning sound-sight correspondences comes first in an alphabetic language. 
Competence with the entire package of sounds corresponding to alphabet symbols comes 
quickly. After that anything can be read and its meaning inquired after. The substantial 
speaking vocabulary kids bring to school (6,000 — 10,000 words) can now be read at 
once, and understood. 

When the Romans got the alphabet through the Etruscans they lost the old letter names so 
they invented new ones making them closer to the letter sounds. That was a significant 
mistake which causes confusion in novice readers even today. Through conquest the 
Latin alphabet spread to the languages of Europe; Rome's later mutation into the 
Universal Christian Church caused Latin, the language of church liturgy, to flow into 
every nook and cranny of the former empire. 

The Latin alphabet was applied to the English language by Christian missionaries in the 
seventh century. While it fused with spoken English this was far from a perfect fit. There 
were no single letters to stand for certain sounds. Scribes had to scramble to combine 
letters to approximate sounds that had no companion letter. This matching process was 
complicated over centuries by repeated borrowings from other languages and by certain 
massive sound shifts which still occupy scholars in trying to explain. 

Before the spread of printing in the sixteenth century, not being able to read wasn't much 
of a big deal. There wasn't much to read. The principal volume available was the Bible, 
from which appropriate bits were read aloud by religious authorities during worship and 
on ceremonial occasions. Available texts were in Latin or Greek, but persistent attempts 
to provide translations was a practice thought to contain much potential for schism. An 
official English Bible, the Authorized King James Version, appeared in 1611, preempting 
all competitors in a bold stroke which changed popular destiny. 

Instantly, the Bible became a universal textbook, offering insights both delicate and 
powerful, a vibrant cast of characters, brilliant verbal pyrotechnics and more to the 
humblest rascal who could read. Talk about a revolutionary awakening for ordinary 
people! The Bible was it, thanks to the dazzling range of models it provided in the areas 
of exegesis, drama, politics, psychology, characterization, plus the formidable reading 
skills it took to grapple with the Bible. A little more than three decades after this 
translation, the English king was deposed and beheaded. The connection was direct. 
Nothing would ever be the same again because too many good readers had acquired the 
proclivity of thinking for themselves. 

The magnificent enlargement of imagination and voice that the Bible's exceptional 
catalogue of language and ideas made available awakened in ordinary people a powerful 
desire to read in order to read the Holy Book without a priest's mediation. Strenuous 
efforts were made to discourage this, but the Puritan Revolution and Cromwell's 
interregnum sent literacy surging. Nowhere was it so accelerated as in the British 
colonies in North America, a place already far removed from the royal voice. 

Printing technology emerged. Like the computer in our own day, it was quickly 
incorporated into every corner of daily life. But there were still frequent jailings, 
whippings, and confiscations for seditious reading as people of substance came to realize 
how dangerous literacy could be. 

Reading offered many delights. Cravings to satisfy curiosity about this Shakespeare 
fellow or to dabble in the musings of Lord Bacon or John Locke were now not difficult to 
satisfy. Spelling and layout were made consistent. Before long, prices of books dropped. 
All this activity intensified pressure on illiterate individuals to become literate. The net 
result of printing (and Protestantism, which urged communicants to go directly to the 
Word, eliminating the priestly middleman), stimulated the spread of roving teachers and 
small proprietary and church schools. A profession arose to satisfy demand for a popular 
way to understand what uses to make of books, and from this a demand to understand 
many things. 

'The "problem" with English phonics has been wildly exaggerated, sometimes by sincere people but most 
often by those who make a living as guides through the supposed perils of learning to read. These latter 
constitute a vast commercial empire with linkages among state education departments, foundations, 
publishers, authors of school readers, press, magazines, education journals, university departments of 
education, professional organizations, teachers, reading specialists, local administrators, local school 
boards, various politicians who facilitate the process and the U.S. offices of education, defense and labor. 

2 Mitford Mathews, Teaching to Read Historically Considered (1966). A brief, intelligent history of reading 
A number of other good treatments are available for the newcomer. 

The Meatgrinder Classroom 

The first schoolman to seriously challenge what is known today as phonics was Friedrich 
Gedike, a disciple of Rousseau, director of a well-known gymnasium in Prussia. In 1791 
he published the world's first look/say primer, A Children 's Reader Without the ABC 's 
and Spelling. The idea was to eliminate drill. Kids would learn through pictures 
following suggestions the legendary mystic and scholar Comenius set down in his famous 
Orbis Pictus of 1657. 

After a brief splash and three editions, the fashion vanished for an excellent reason: As 
good as it sounds in theory, it doesn't work well at all in practice (although here and there 
exceptions are encountered and infuriatingly enough it can seem to work in the early 
years of first and second grade). Soon after that the rapidly developing reading power in 
phonetically trained children makes them capable of recognizing in print their entire 
speaking and listening vocabulary, while look/say trained readers can read without error 
only the words they have memorized as whole shapes, a relative handful. 

This is devilishly complex terrain. Gedike's theory held that when enough words are 
ingested and recognized, the student can figure out for himself 'the seventy key 
phonograms of the English language. Indeed this is the only credible explanation which 
could account for the well-known phenomenon of children who teach themselves to read 
handily without the use of any system at all. I have no doubt children occasionally learn 
to read this way. Yet if true, how do we account for the grotesque record of whole-word 
instruction for over a century and a half in every conceivable school setting? 

Money, time, attention, and caring adults in profusion, all have been available to make 
this alternative method work to teach reading proficiency, yet its record in competition 
with the old-fashioned alphabet system is horrifying. What might account for this? 

I have a hunch based on a decade of ruminating. Since no one has yet bothered to 
assemble a large group of self-taught good readers to ask them how it happened, let my 
hunch serve as a working hypothesis for you to chew upon at your leisure. Consider first 
the matter of time. The average five-year-old can master all of the seventy phonograms in 
six weeks. At that point he can readjust about anything fluently. Can he understand 
everything? No, of course not. But also, no synthetic barrier to understanding is being 
interposed by weird-looking words to be memorized whole, either. Paulo Freire taught 
ignorant campesinos with no tradition of literacy at all to read in thirty hours. They were 
adults, with different motivations than children, but when he showed them a sentence and 
they realized it said "The land belongs to the tiller," they were hooked. That's Jesuit 
savvy for you. 

Back to this matter of time. By the end of the fourth grade, phonics-trained students are at 
ease with an estimated 24,000 words. Whole-word trained students have memorized 
about 1 ,600 words and can successfully guess at some thousands more, but also 
unsuccessfully guess at thousands, too. One reigning whole-word expert has called 
reading "a psycholinguistic guessing game" in which the reader is not extracting the 
writer's meaning but constructing a meaning of his own. 

While there is an attractive side to this that is ignored by critics of whole language (and I 
number myself among these), the value doesn't begin to atone for the theft of priceless 
reading time and guided practice. As long as whole-language kids are retained in a 
hothouse environment, shielded from linguistic competition, things seem idyllic, but once 
mixed together with phonetically trained kids of similar age and asked to avail 
themselves of the intellectual treasure locked up in words, the result is not so pretty. 
Either the deficient kid must retreat from the field with a whopping sense of inferiority, 
or, worse, he must advance aggressively into the fray, claiming books are overrated, that 
thinking and judgment are merely matters of opinion. The awful truth is that 
circumstances hardly give us the luxury of testing Gedike's hypothesis about kids being 
able to deduce the rules of language from a handful of words. Humiliation makes 
mincemeat of most of them long before the trial is fairly joined. 

So, the second hunch I have is that where whole-word might work when it works at all is 
in a comfortable, protected environment without people around to laugh derisively at the 
many wretched mistakes you must make on the way to becoming a Columbus of 
language. But in case you hadn't noticed, schools aren 't safe places for the young to 
guess at the meanings of things. Only an imbecile would pretend that school isn't a 
pressure-cooker of psychodrama. Wherever children are gathered into groups by 
compulsion, a pecking order soon emerges in which malice, mockery, intimidation of the 
weak, envy, and a whole range of other nasty characteristics hold sway, like that famous 
millpond of Huxley's, whose quiet surface mirroring fall foliage conceals a murderous 
subterranean world whose law is eat or be eaten. 

That's melodramatic, I suppose, yet thirty classroom years and a decade more as a visitor 
in hundreds of other schools have shown me what a meatgrinder the peaceful classroom 
really is. Bill is wondering whether he will be beaten again on the way to the lunchroom; 
Molly is paralyzed with fear that the popular Jean will make loud fun of her prominent 
teeth; Ronald is digging the point of a sharpened pencil into the neck of Herbert who sits 
in front of him, all the while whispering he will get Herb good if he gets Ron in trouble 
with the teacher; Alan is snapping a rubber band at Flo; Ralph is about to call Leonard 
"trailer park trash" for the three-hundredth time that day, not completely clear he knows 
what it means, yet enjoying the anguish it brings to Leonard's face; Greta, the most 
beautiful girl in the room, is practicing ogling shyer boys, then cutting them dead when 
she evokes any hopeful smiles in response; Willie is slowly shaken down for a dollar by 
Phil; and Mary's single mom has just received an eviction notice. 

Welcome to another day in an orderly, scientific classroom. Teacher may have a 
permanent simper pasted on her face, but it's deadly serious, the world she presides over, 
a bad place to play psycholinguistic guessing games which involve sticking one's neck 
out in front of classmates as the rules of language are empirically derived. A method that 
finds mistakes to be "charming stabs in the right direction" may be onto something 
person-to-person or in the environment of a loving home, but it's dynamically unsuited to 
the forge of forced schooling. 

The Ignorant Schoolmaster 

After Gedike, the next innovator to hit on a reading scheme was Jean Joseph Jacotot, a 
grand genius, much misunderstood. A professor of literature at nineteen, Jacotot 
discovered a method of teaching nonspeakers of French the French language beginning 
not with primers but with Fenelon's Telemachus. Jacotot read aloud slowly while 
students followed his reading in a dual translation — to their own familiar language and to 
Fenelon's spoken French. Then the process was repeated. After the group reading, each 
student individually dismantled the entire book into parts, into smaller parts, into 
paragraphs, into sentences, into words, and finally into letters and sounds. This followed 
the "natural" pattern of scientists it was thought, beginning with wholes, and reducing 
them to smaller and smaller elements. 

Jacotot has a reputation as a whole-word guru, but any resemblance to contemporary 
whole- word reading in Jacotot is illusion. His method shifts the burden for analysis 
largely from the shoulders of the teacher to the student. The trappings of holistic 
noncompetitiveness are noticeably absent. Penalty for failure in his class was denial of 
advancement. Everyone succeeded in Jacotot's system, but then, his students were highly 
motivated, self-selected volunteers, all of college age. 

From Jacotot we got the idea anybody can teach anything. His was the concept of the 
ignorant schoolmaster. It should surprise no one that the ideas of Jacotot interested 
Prussians who brought his system back to Germany and modified it for younger children. 
For them, however, a book seemed too impractical a starting point, perhaps a sentence 
would be better or a single word. Eventually it was the latter settled upon. Was this the 
genesis of whole-word teaching which eventually dealt American reading ability a body 

The answer is a qualified No. In the German "normal word" method the whole-word was 
not something to be memorized but a specimen of language to be analyzed into syllables. 
The single word was made a self-conscious vehicle for learning letters. Once letter 
sounds were known, reading instruction proceeded traditionally. To a great extent, this is 
the method my German mother used with my sister and me to teach us to read fluently 
before we ever saw first grade. 

Frank Had A Dog; His Name Was Spot 

Two flies now enter the reading ointment in the persons of Horace Mann and his second 
wife, Mary Peabody. There is raw material here for a great intrigue novel: in the early 
1830s, a minister in Hartford, Thomas Gallaudet, invented a sight-reading, look-say 
method to use with the deaf. Like Jacotot, Gallaudet was a man of unusual personal force 
and originality. He served as director at the asylum for the education of the deaf and 
dumb in Hartford. Deaf mutes couldn't learn a sound-symbol system, it was thought, so 
Gallaudet devised a sight-reading vocabulary of fifty whole-words which he taught 
through pictures. Then his deaf students learned a manual alphabet which permitted them 
to indicate letters with their fingers and communicate with others. 

Even in light of the harm he inadvertently caused, it's hard not to be impressed by 
Gallaudet. In Gallaudet's system, writing transmuted from a symbolic record of sounds to 
a symbolic record of pictures. Gallaudet had reinvented English as ancient Babylonian! 
One of his former teachers, William Woodbridge, then editor of the American Annals of 
Education, received a long, detailed letter in which Gallaudet described his flash-card 
method and demanded that education be regarded as a science like chemistry: "Mind, like 
matter, can be made subject to experiment." Fifty words could be learned by memory 
before introducing the alphabet. By removing the "dull and tedious" normal method, 
great interest "has [been] excited in the mind of the little learner." 

Historically, three important threads run together here: 1) that learning should be 
scientific, and learning places a laboratory; 2) that words be learned ideographically; 3) 
that relieving boredom and tedium should be an important goal of pedagogy. Each 
premise was soon pushed to extremes. These themes institutionalized would ultimately 
require a vast bureaucracy to enforce. But all this lay in the future. 

Gallaudet had adopted the point of view of a deaf-mute who had to make his way without 
assistance from sound to spoken language. Samuel Blumenfeld's analysis of what was 
wrong in this is instructive: 

It led to serious confusions in Gallaudet's thinking concerning two very different 
processes; that of learning to speak one's native language and that of learning to read it. 
In teaching the deaf to read by sight he was also teaching them language by sight for the 
first time. They underwent two learning processes, not one. But a normal child came to 
school already with the knowledge of several thousand words in his speaking vocabulary, 
with a much greater intellectual development which the sense of sound afforded him. In 
learning to read it was not necessary to teach him what he already knew, to repeat the 
process of learning to speak. The normal child did not learn his language by learning to 
read. He learned to read in order to help him expand his use of the language. 

In 1830, Gallaudet published The Child's Picture Defining and Reading Book, a book for 
children with normal hearing, seeking to generalize his method to all. In its preface, the 
book sets down for the first time basic whole-word protocols. Words will be taught as 
representing objects and ideas, not as sounds represented by letters. 

He who controls language controls the public mind, a concept well understood by Plato. 
Indeed, the manipulation of language was at the center of curriculum at the Collegia of 
Rome, in the Jesuit academies, and the private schools maintained for children of the 
influential classes; it made up an important part of the text of Machiavelli; it gave rise to 
the modern arts and sciences of advertising and public relations. The whole-word 
method, honorably derived and employed by men like Gallaudet, was at the same time a 
tool to be used by any regime or interest with a stake in limiting the growth of intellect. 

Gallaudet's primer, lost to history, was published in 1836. One year later, the Boston 
School Committee was inaugurated under the direction of Horace Mann. Although no 
copies of the primer have survived, Blumenfeld tells us, "From another source we know 

that its first line was, Frank had a dog; his name was Spot." On August 2, 1836, 
Gallaudet's primer was adopted by the Boston Primary School Committee on an 
experimental basis. A year later a report was issued pronouncing the method a success on 
the basis of speed in learning when compared to the alphabet system, and of bringing a 
"pleasant tone" to the classroom by removing "the old unintelligible, and irksome mode 
of teaching certain arbitrary marks, or letters, by certain arbitrary sounds." 

A sight vocabulary is faster to learn than letters and phonograms, but the gain is a Trojan 
horse; only after several years have passed does the sight reader's difficulty learning 
words from outside sources begin to become apparent. By that time conditions made 
pressing by the social situation of the classroom and demands from the world at large 
combine to make it hard to retrace the ground lost. 

Mann endorsed Gallaudet's primer in his Second Annual Report (1838). His 
endorsement, Gallaudet's general fame and public adulation, erroneous reports 
circulating at the time that mighty Prussia was using a whole-word system, and possibly 
the prospect of fame and a little profit, caused Mann's own wife, Mary Tyler Peabody — 
whose family names were linked to a network of powerful families up and down the 
Eastern seaboard — to write a whole-word primer. The Mann family was only one of a 
host of influential voices being raised against the traditional reading instructions in the 
most literate nation on earth. In Woodbridge's Annals of Education, a steady tattoo was 
directed against spelling and the alphabet method. 

By the time of the Gallaudet affair, both Manns were under the spell of phrenology, a 
now submerged school of psychology and the brainchild of a German physician. Francois 
Joseph Gall, in working with the insane, had become convinced he had located the 
physical site of personality traits like love, benevolence, acquisitiveness, and many more. 
He could provide a map of their positions inside the skull! These faculties signaled their 
presence, said Gall, by making bumps on the visible exterior of the cranium. The 
significance of this to the future of reading is that among Gall's claims was: too much 
reading causes insanity. The Manns agreed. 

One of Gall's converts was a Scottish lawyer named George Combe. On October 8, 1838, 
Mann wrote in his diary that he had met "the author of that extraordinary book, The 
Constitution of Man, the doctrines of which will work the same change in metaphysical 
science that Lord Bacon wrought in natural." The book was Combe's. Suddenly the 
Mann project to downgrade reading acquired a psychological leg to accompany the 
political, social, economic, and religious legs it already possessed. Unlike other 
arguments against enlightenment of ordinary people — all of which invoked one or 
another form of class interest — what psychological phrenology offered was a scientific 
argument based on the supposed best interests of the child. Thus a potent weapon fell into 
pedagogy's hands which would not be surrendered after phrenology was discredited. If 
one psychology could not convince, another might. By appearing to avoid any argument 
from special interest, the scientific case took the matter of who should learn what out of 
the sphere of partisan politics into a loftier realm of altruism. 

Meanwhile Combe helped Mann line up his great European tour of 1843, which was to 
result in the shattering Seventh Report to the Boston School Committee of 1844. (The 
Sixth had been a plea to phrenologize classrooms!) This new report said: "I am satisfied 
our greatest error in teaching children to read lies in beginning with the alphabet." Mann 
was attempting to commit Massachusetts children to the hieroglyphic system of 
Gallaudet. The result was an outcry from Boston's schoolmasters, a battle that went on in 
the public press for many months culminating (on the schoolmaster's side) in this 
familiar lament: 

Education is a great concern; it has often been tampered with by vain theorists; it has 
suffered from the stupid folly and the delusive wisdom of its treacherous friends; and we 
hardly know which have injured it most. Our conviction is that it has much more to hope 
from the collected wisdom and common prudence of the community than from the 
suggestions of the individual. Locke injured it by his theories, and so did Rousseau, and 
so did Milton. All their plans were too splendid to be true. It is to be advanced by 
conceptions, neither soaring above the clouds, nor groveling on the earth — but by those 
plain, gradual, productive, common sense improvements, which use may encourage and 
experience suggest. We are in favor of advancement, provided it be towards usefulness.... 

We love the secretary but we hate his theories. They stand in the way of substantial 
education. It is impossible for a sound mind not to hate them. 

The Pedagogy Of Literacy 

Between Mann's death and the great waves of Italian immigration after the 1870s, the 
country seemed content with McGuffey readers, Webster Spelling Books, Pilgrim 's 
Progress, the Bible, and the familiar alphabet method for breaking the sound code. But 
beginning about the year 1880 with the publication of Francis W. Parker's Supplementary 
Reading for Primary Schools (and his Talks on Pedagogics, 1883), a new attack on 
reading was mounted. 

Parker was a loud, affable, flamboyant teacher with little academic training himself, a 
man forced to resign as principal of a Chicago teachers college in 1 899 for reasons not 
completely honorable. Shortly thereafter, at the age of sixty-two, he was suddenly 
selected to head the School of Education at Rockefeller's new University of Chicago, 1 a 
university patterned after great German research establishments like Heidelberg, Berlin, 
and Leipzig. 

As supervisor of schools in Boston in a former incarnation, Parker had asserted boldly 
that learning to read was learning a vocabulary which can be instantly recalled as ideas 
when certain symbolic signposts are encountered. Words are learned, he said, by repeated 
acts of association of the word with the idea it represents. 

Parker originated the famous Quincy Movement, the most recognizable starting point for 
progressive schooling. Its reputation rested on four ideas: 1) group activities in which the 
individual is submerged for the good of the collective; 2) emphasis on the miracles of 

science (as opposed to traditional classical studies of history, philosophy, literature); 3) 
informal instruction in which teacher and student dress casually, call each other by first 
names, treat all priorities as very flexible, etc; 4) the elimination of harsh discipline as 
psychologically damaging to children. Reading was not stressed in Parker schools. 

Parker's work and that of other activists antagonistic to reading received a giant forward 
push in 1885 from one of the growing core of America's new "psychologists" who had 
studied with Wilhelm Wundt at Leipzig. James McKeen Cattell boldly announced he had 
proven, using the tachistoscope, that we read whole words and not letters. Cattell's lusty 
ambition resounds in his cry of triumph: 

These results are important enough to prove those to be wrong who hold with Kant that 
psychology can never become an exact science. 

Until 1965 no one bothered to check Cattell's famous experiment with the tachistoscope. 
When they did, it was found Cattell had been dead wrong. People read letters, not words. 

It was out of the cauldron of Columbia Teachers College that the most ferocious advocate 
of whole-word therapy came: Edward Burke Huey was his name, his mentor, G. Stanley 
Hall. In 1908 they published an influential book, The Psychology and Pedagogy of 
Reading, which laid out the revolution in a way that sent a message of bonanzas to come 
to the new educational book publishing industry. Publishing was a business just 
beginning to reap fantastic profits from contracts with the new factory schools. 
Centralized management was proving a pot of gold for lucky book contractors in big 
cities. The message was this: "Children should be taught to read English as if it were 
Chinese: ideographically." 

Huey was even more explicit: he said children learned to read too well and too early and 
that was bad for them: 

He must not, by reading adult grammatical and logical forms, begin exercises in mental 
habits which will violate his childhood. 

As Blumenfeld (to whom I owe much of the research cited here) explains, Huey 
concocted a novel justification based on Darwinian evolution for jettisoning the alphabet 

The history of the language in which picture-writing was long the main means of written 
communication has here a wealth of suggestions for the framers of the new primary 
course. It is not from mere perversity that the boy chalks or carves his records on a book 
and desk.... There is here a correspondence with, if not a direct recapitulation of the life 
of the race; and we owe it to the child to encourage his living through the best there is in 
this pictography stage.... 

'Mrs. Anita McCormick Blaine, daughter of the inventor of the harvesting machine, became his patron, 
purchasing the College of Education for him with a contribution of $1 million. 

Dick And Jane 

As many before him, Huey missed entirely the brilliant Greek insight that reading and 
understanding are two different things. Good reading is the fluent and effortless cracking 
of the symbol-sound code which puts understanding within easy reach. Understanding is 
the translation of that code into meaning. 

It is for many people a natural and fairly harmless mistake. Since they read for meaning, 
the code-cracking step is forgotten. Forgotten, that is, by those who read well. For others, 
self-disgust and despair engendered by halting progress in decoding sounds sets into play 
a fatal chain of circumstances which endangers the relationship to print for a long time, 
sometimes wrecking it forever. If decoding is a painful effort, filled with frustrating 
errors, finally a point is reached when the reader says, in effect, to the devil with it. 

Another piece of dangerous philosophy is concealed inside whole-word practice — the 
notion that a piece of writing is only an orange one squeezes in order to extract something 
called meaning, some bit of data. The sheer luxury of putting your mind in contact with 
the greatest minds of history across time and space,/ee/wg the rhythm of their thought, 
the sallies and retreats, the marshaling of evidence, the admixture of humor or beauty of 
observation and many more attributes of the power and value language possesses, has 
something in common with being coached by Bill Walsh in football or Toscanini in 
orchestra conducting. How these men say what they say is as important as the translating 
their words into your own. The music of language is what poetry and much rhetoric are 
about, the literal meaning often secondary. Powerful speech depends on this 

By 1920, the sight- word method was being used in new wave progressive schools. In 
1927, another professor at Columbia Teachers College, Arthur Gates, laid the foundation 
for his own personal fortune by writing a book called The Improvement of Reading, 
which purported to muster thirty-one experimental studies proving that sight reading was 
superior to phonics. All these studies are either trivial or highly ambiguous at best and at 
times, in a practice widely encountered throughout higher education research in America, 
Gates simply draws the conclusions he wants from facts which clearly lead elsewhere. 

But his piece de resistance is a comparison of first-grade deaf pupils tutored in the 
whole- word method with Detroit first graders. The scores of the two groups are almost 
identical, causing Gates to declare this a most convincing demonstration. Yet it had been 
well known for almost a century that deaf children taught with a method created 
expressly for deaf children only gain a temporary advantage which disappears quickly. In 
spite of this cautionary detail Gates called this "conclusive proof that normal children 
taught this way would improve even faster! 

Shortly after the book's publication, Arthur Gates was given the task of authoring 
Macmillan's basal reader series, a pure leap into whole-word method by the most 
prestigious education publisher of them all. Macmillan was a corporation with wide- 

reaching contacts able to enhance an author's career. In 1931, Gates contributed to the 
growth of a new reading industry by writing an article for Parents magazine, "New Ways 
of Teaching Reading." Parents were told to abandon any residual loyalty they might have 
to the barren, formal older method and to embrace the new as true believers. A later 
article by a Gates associate was expressly tailored for "those parents concerned because 
children do not know their letters." It explained that "the modern approach to reading" 
eliminated the boredom of code-cracking. 

With its finger in the wind, Scott, Foresman, the large educational publisher, ordered a 
revision of its Elson Basic Readers drawn on the traditional method, a series which had 
sold 50 million copies to that date. To head up the mighty project, the publisher brought 
in William S. Gray, dean of the University of Chicago College of Education, to write its 
all new whole-word pre-primer and primer books, a series marking the debut of two 
young Americans who would change millions of minds into mush during their long 
tenure in school classrooms. Their names were Dick and Jane. After Gates and Gray, 
most major publishers fell into line with other whole- word series and in the words of 
Rudolf Flesch, "inherited the kingdom of American education," with its fat royalties. 
Blumenfeld does the student of American schooling a great service when he compares 
this original 1930 Dick and Jane with its 1951 successor: 

"In 1930, the Dick and Jane Pre-Primer taught 68 sign words in 39 pages of story text, 
with an illustration per page, a total of 565 words — and a Teacher's Guidebook of 87 
pages. In 1951, the same book was expanded to 172 pages with 184 illustrations, a total 
of 2,603 words — and a Guidebook of 182 pages to teach a sight vocabulary of only 58 
words!" Without admitting any disorder, the publisher was protecting itself from this 
system, and the general public, without quite knowing why, was beginning to look at its 
schools with unease. 

By 1951, entire public school systems were bailing out on phonics and jumping on the 
sight-reading bandwagon. Out of the growing number of reading derelicts poised to begin 
tearing the schools apart which tormented them, a giant remedial reading industry was 
spawned, a new industry completely in the hands of the very universities who had with 
one hand written the new basal readers, and with the other taught a generation of new 
teachers about the wonders of the whole-word method. 

Mute evidence that Scott, Foresman wasn't just laughing all the way to the bank, but was 
actively trying to protect its nest egg in Dick and Jane, was its canny multiplication of 
words intended to be learned. In 1930, the word lookwas repeated 8 times; in 1951, 110 
times; in the earlier version oh repeats 12 times, in the later 138 times; in the first, see 
gets 27 repetitions, and in the second, 176.' 

The legendary children's book author, Dr. Seuss, creator of a string of best-sellers using a 
controlled "scientific" vocabulary supplied by the publisher, demonstrated his own 
awareness of the mindlessness of all this in an interview he gave in 1981: 

I did it for a textbook house and they sent me a word list. That was due to the Dewey 
revolt in the twenties, in which they threw out phonics reading and went to a word 
recognition as if you're reading a Chinese pictograph instead of blending sounds or 
different letters. I think killing phonics was one of the greatest causes of illiteracy in the 

Anyway they had it all worked out that a healthy child at the age of four can only learn so 
many words in a week. So there were two hundred and twenty-three words to use in this 
book. I read the list three times and I almost went out of my head. I said, " I'll read it 
once more and if I can find two words that rhyme, that'll be the title of my book." I found 
"cat" and "hat" and said, the title of my book will be The Cat in the Hat. 

For the forty-one months beginning in January of 1929 and concluding in June of 1932, 
there were eighty-eight articles written in various pedagogical journals on the subject of 
reading difficulties and remedial teaching; in the forty-one months beginning in July of 
1935 and concluding in December of 1938, the number rose almost 200 percent to 239. 
The first effects of the total victory of whole-word reading philosophy were being 
reflected in academic journals as the once mighty reading Samson of America was led 
eyeless to Gaza with the rest of the slaves. 

'1955 proved to be a year of great frustration to the reading combine because of the publication of Rudolf 
Flesch's hostile Why Johnny Can 't Read, which precisely analyzed the trouble and laid it at the doorstep of 
the reading establishment. The book was a hot seller for over a year, continuing to reverberate through the 
reading world for a long time thereafter. In 1956, 56,000 reading professionals formed a look/say defense 
league called the International Reading Association. It published three journals as bibles of enthusiasm: The 
Reading Teacher, The Journal of Reading, The Reading Research Quarterly. Between 1961 and 1964, a 
new generation of academics shape-shifted look/say into psycholinguistics under the leadership of Frank 
Smith, an excellent writer when not riding his hobby horse, and Kenneth and Yetta Goodman, senior 
authors at Scott, Foresman who had been widely quoted as calling reading "a psycholinguistic guessing 
game." From 1911 to 1981, there were 124 legitimate studies attempting to prove Cattell and the other 
whole-word advocates right. Not a single one confirmed whole-word reading as effective. 


I Quit, I Think 

The master's face goes white, then red. His mouth tightens and opens 

and spit flies everywhere. . . . 

What will I do, boys? 

Flog the boy, sir. 


Till the blood spurts, sir. 

— Frank McCourt, Angela's Ashes. 
Writing of Ireland's schools as 
they were in the 1940s. 

Wadleigh, The Death School 

One day after spending nearly my entire life inside a school building as student and 
teacher, I quit. But not before I saw some things you ought to know. McCourt is right, 
spit flies everywhere in the classroom and school, children mock us because of it. The 
smell of saliva. I had forgotten until I returned as a teacher. Put the cosmic aspect aside 
and come back again into school with me. See it from the inside with grownup eyes. 

On my first day back to school I was hired to substitute in a horrible place, Wadleigh 
Junior High School, nicknamed "the death school" by regulars at the West End Tavern 
near Columbia. Jean Stapleton (Archie Bunker's wife, Edith) had gone there as a young 
girl; so had Anais Nin, celebrated diarist and writer of erotica. Some palace revolution 
long before I got there had altered the nature of this school from an earnest, respectable 
Victorian lock-up to something indescribable. During my teaching debut at Wadleigh, I 
was attacked by a student determined to bash my brains out with a chair. 

Wadleigh was located three blocks from that notorious 1 10th Street corner in Harlem 
made famous by a bestseller of the day, New York Confidential, which called it "the most 
dangerous intersection in America." I mention danger as the backdrop of my teaching 
debut because two kinds of peril were in the air that season: one, phony as my teaching 
license, was the "Cuban Missile Crisis"; the other, only too genuine, was a predicament 
without any possible solution, a deadly brew compounded from twelve hundred black 
teenagers penned inside a gloomy brick pile for six hours a day, with a white guard staff 
misnamed "faculty" manning the light towers and machine-gun posts. This faculty was 
charged with dribbling out something called "curriculum" to inmates, a gruel so thin 
Wadleigh might rather have been a home for the feeble-minded than a place of education. 

My own motive in being there was a personal quest. I was playing hooky from my real 
job as a Madison Avenue ad writer flogging cigarettes and shaving cream, a fraternity 
boy's dream job. Not a single day without Beefeater Martinis, then the preferred ad 

man's tipple, not a morning without headache, not a single professional achievement 
worth the bother. I was hardly a moralist in those days, but I wasn't a moron either. 
Thoughts of a future composed of writing fifty words or so a week, drunk every day, 
hunting sensation every night, had begun to make me nervous. Sitting around the West 
End one weekend I decided to see what schoolteaching was like. 

Harlem then was an ineffable place where the hip white in-crowd played in those last few 
moments before the fires and riots of the 1960s broke out. Black and white still pretended 
it was the same high-style Harlem of WWII years, but a new awareness was dawning 
among teenagers. Perhaps Mama had been sold a bill of goods about the brighter 
tomorrow progressive America was arranging for black folks, but the kids knew better. 

"The natives are restless." That expression I heard a half-dozen times in the single day I 
spent at Wadleigh, the Death School. Candor was the style of the moment among white 
teachers (who comprised 1 00 percent of the faculty) and with administrators in particular. 
On some level, black kids had caught on to the fact that their school was a liar's world, a 
jobs project for seedy white folk. 

The only blacks visible outside Harlem and its outrigger ghettos were maids, laborers, 
and a token handful stuffed into make -work government occupations, in theater, the arts, 
or civil service. 

The notable exception consisted of a small West Indian business and professional elite 
which behaved itself remarkably like upper-class whites, exhibiting a healthy dose of 
racial prejudice, itself built on skin color and gradations, lighter being better. British 
manners made a difference in Harlem just as they did elsewhere. The great ad campaigns 
of the day were overwhelmingly British. Men in black eye patches wearing Hathaway 
shirts whose grandfathers fought at Mafeking, "curiously delicious" Schweppes 
"Commander Whitehead" ads, ads for Rolls cars where the loudest noise you heard was 
the ticking of the electric clock. The British hand in American mid-twentieth-century life 
was noticeably heavy. Twelve hundred Wadleigh black kids had no trouble figuring out 
what recolonization by the English meant for them. 

I had no clue of this, of course, the day I walked into a school building for the first time 
in nine years, a building so dark, sour, and shabby it was impossible to accept that anyone 
seriously thought kids were better held there than running the streets. 

Consider the orders issued me and under which I traveled to meet eighth graders on the 
second floor: 

Good morning, Mr. Gatto. You have typing. Here is your program. Remember, THEY 
MUST NOT TYPE! Under no circumstances are they allowed to type. I will come 
around unannounced to see that you comply. DO NOT BELIEVE ANYTHING THEY 
TELL YOU about an exception. THERE ARE NO EXCEPTIONS. 

Picture the scene: an assistant principal, a man already a living legend throughout the 
school district, a man with a voice of command like Ozymandias, dispatching young 
Gatto (who only yesterday wrote the immortal line "Legs are in the limelight this year" 
for a hosiery ad) into the dark tunnels of the Death School with these words: 

Not a letter, not a numeral, not a punctuation mark from those keys or you will never be 
hired here again. Go now. 

When I asked what I should do instead with the class of seventy- five, he replied, "Fall 
back on your resources. Remember, you have no typing license!" 

Off I went up the dark stairs, down the dark corridor. Opening the door I discovered my 
dark class in place, an insane din coming from seventy-five old black Underwoods, 
DING! SLAM! CLACK! Seven hundred and fifty black fingers dancing around under 
the typewriter covers. One-hundred and fifty hammering hands clacking louder by far 
than I could bellow: STOP.... TYPING! NO TYPING ALLOWED! DON'T TYPE! 

The last words were intended for the most flagrant of the young stenographers who had 
abandoned any pretense of compliance. By unmasking their instruments they were 
declaring war. In self-defense, I escalated my shouting into threats and insults, the 
standard tactical remedy of teachers in the face of impending chaos, kicked a few chairs, 
banged an aluminum water pitcher out of shape, and was having some success curtailing 
rogue typers when an ominous chant of OOOOOHHHHHH! 
OOOOOOOOOOHHHHHH! warned me some other game was now afoot. 

Sure enough, a skinny little fellow had arisen in the back of the room and was bearing 
down on me, chair held high over his head. He had heard enough of my deranged screed, 
just as Middlesex farmers had enough of British lip and raised their chairs at Concord 
and Lexington. I too raised a chair and was backing my smaller opponent down when all 
of a sudden I caught a vision of both of us as a movie camera might. It caused me to grin 
and when I did the whole class laughed and tensions subsided. 

"Isn't this a typing period?" I said, "WHY DON'T YOU START TYPING?" Day One of 
my thirty-year teaching career concluded quietly with a few more classes to which I said 
at once, "No goofing off! Let's TYPE!" And they did. All the machines survived 

I had never thought much about kids up to that moment, even fancied I didn't like them, 
but these bouts of substitute teaching raised the possibility I was reacting adversely not to 
youth but to invisible societal directives ordering young people to act childish whether 
they want to or not. Such behavior provides the best excuse for mature oversight. Was it 
possible I did like kids, just not the script written for them? 

There were other mysteries. What kind of science justified such sharp distinctions among 
classes when even by the house logic of schooling it was obvious that large numbers of 
students were misplaced? Why didn't this bother teachers? Why the apparent indifference 
to important matters like these? And why was the mental ration doled out so sparingly? 
Whenever I stepped up my own pace and began cracking the mental whip, all manner of 
kids responded better than when I followed the prescribed dopey curriculum. Yet if that 
were so, why this skimpy diet instead? 

The biggest mystery lurked in the difference between the lusty goodwill of first, second, 
and to some extent third graders — even in Harlem — the bright, quick intelligence and 
goodwill always so abundant in those grades, and the wild change fourth grade brought in 
terms of sullenness, dishonesty, and downright mean spirit. 

I knew something in the school experience was affecting these kids, but what? It had to 
be hidden in those first-, second- and third-grade years which appear so idyllic even in 
Harlem. What surfaced by fourth grade was the effect of a lingering disease running 
rampant in the very Utopian interlude when they were laughing, singing, playing, and 
running round in the earlier grades. And kids who had been to kindergarten seemed 
worse than the others. 

But schoolwork came as a great relief to me in spite of everything, after studying 
Marlboro cigarette campaigns and Colgate commercials. In those days I was chomping at 
the bit to have work that involved real responsibility; this imperative made me decide to 
throw ambition to the winds at least for the moment and teach. Plenty of time to get rich 
later on, I thought. 

In New York City in the 1960s, becoming a teacher was easier than you could imagine or 
believe (it still is). It was a time of rich cash harvests for local colleges giving two-week 
teacher courses for provisional certification; nearly everyone passed and permanent 
license requirements could be met on the job. At the end of summer I had a license to go 
to school and get paid for it. Whether I could actually teach was never an issue with 
anyone. Kids assigned to me had no choice in the matter. That following autumn I found 
regular work at William J. O'Shea Junior High whose broken concrete playground sat in 
plain view of the world-famous Museum of Natural History, diagonally across Columbus 
Avenue to the northeast. It was a playground my kids and I were later to use to make the 
school rich by designing and arranging for a weekend flea market to be held on this site. 
But that came long afterwards. 

Dr. Caleb Gattegno, Expert 

I began to schoolteach as an engineer would, solving problems as they arose. Because of 
my upbringing and because of certain unresolved contradictions in my own character I 
had a great private need not just to have a job but to have work that would allow me to 
build the unbuilt parts of myself, to give me competence and let me feel my life was one 
being lived instead of it living me. I brought to those first years an intensity of 

watchfulness probably uncommon in those who grow up untroubled. My own 
deficiencies provided enough motivation to want to make something worthwhile happen. 

Had I remained a problem-solver I would have drowned in life for sure, but a habit of 
mind that demands things in context sensitized me to the culture of schooling as a major 
element in my work and that wariness eventually allowed me to surmount it. The highest 
school priorities are administrative coherence, student predictability, and institutional 
stability; children doing well or poorly are incidental to the main administrative mission. 
Hence teachers are often regarded as instruments which respond best if handled like 
servants made to account for the silverware. In order to give these vertical relationships 
strength, the horizontal relationships among teachers — collegiality — must be kept weak. 

This divide-and-conquer principle is true of any large system. The way it plays itself out 
in the culture of schooling is to bestow on some few individuals favor, on some few grief, 
and to approach the large middle with a carrot in one hand, a stick in the other with these 
dismal examples illuminating the discourse. In simple terms, some are bribed into 
loyalty, but seldom so securely they become complacent; others sent despairing, but 
seldom without hope since a crumb might eventually fall their way. Those whose 
loyalties are purchased function as spies to report staff defiance or as cheerleaders for 
new initiatives. 

I used to hear from Granddad that a man's price for surrendering shows you the dirt floor 
of his soul. A short list of customary teacher payoffs includes: 1) assignment to a room 
on the shady side of the building; 2) or one away from playground noise; 3) a parking 
permit; 4) the gift of a closet as a private office; 5) the tacit understanding that one can 
solicit administrative aid in disciplinary situations without being persecuted afterwards; 
6) first choice of textbooks from the available supply in the book room; 7) access to the 
administrators' private photocopy machine; 8) a set of black shades for your windows so 
the room can be sufficiently darkened to watch movies comfortably; 9) privileged access 
to media equipment so machines could be counted on to take over the teaching a few 
days each week; 10) assignment of a student teacher as a private clerk; 11) the right to go 
home on Friday a period or two early in order to beat the weekend rush; 12) a program 
with first period (or first and second) free so the giftee can sleep late while a friend or 
friendly administrator clocks them in. 

Many more "deals" than this are available, extra pay for certain cushy specialized jobs or 
paid after-school duty are major perks. Thus is the ancient game of divide and conquer 
played in school. How many times I remember hearing, "Wake up, Gatto. Why should I 
bother? This is all a big joke. Nobody cares. Keep the kids quiet, that's what a good 
teacher is. I have a life when I get home from this sewer." Deals have a lot to do with that 
attitude and the best deals of all go to those who establish themselves as experts. As did 
Dr. Caleb Gattegno. 

A now long-forgotten Egyptian intellectual, Caleb Gattegno enjoyed a brief vogue in the 
1960s as inventor of a reading system based on the use of nonverbal color cues to aid 
learning. He was brought to the middle school where I worked in 1969 to demonstrate 

how his new system solved seemingly intractable problems. This famous man's 
demonstration made such impact on me that thirty years later I could lead you 
blindfolded to the basement room on West 77th Street where twenty- five teachers and 
administrators crammed into the rear lane of a classroom in order to be touched by this 
magic. Keep in mind it was only the demonstration I recall, I can't remember the idea at 
all. It had something to do with color. 

Even now I applaud Gattegno's courage if nothing else. A stranger facing a new class is 
odds-on to be eaten alive, the customary example of this situation is the hapless 
substitute. But in his favor another classroom advantage worked besides his magical 
color technology, the presence of a crowd of adults virtually guaranteed a peaceful hour. 
Children are familiar with adult-swarming through the twice-a-year- visitation days of 
parents. Everyone knows by some unvoiced universal etiquette to be on best behavior 
when a concentration of strange adults appears in the back of the room. 

On the appointed day, at the appointed hour, we all assembled to watch the great man put 
children through their paces. An air of excitement filled the room. >From the publicity 
buildup a permanent revolution in our knowledge of reading was soon to be put on 
display. Finally, with a full retinue of foundation officers and big bureaucrats, Dr. Caleb 
Gattegno entered the arena. 

I can't precisely say why what happened next happened. The simple truth is I wasn't 
paying much attention. But suddenly a babble of shouting woke me. Looking up, I saw 
the visiting expert's face covered with blood! He was making a beeline through the mob 
for the door as if desperate to get there before he bled to death. 

As I later pieced together from eyewitness accounts, Dr. Gattegno had selected a student 
to cooperate with his demonstration, a girl with a mind of her own. She didn't want to be 
the center of attention at that moment. When Gattegno persisted her patience came to an 
end. What I learned in a Harlem typing class years earlier, the famous Egyptian 
intellectual now learned in a school in the middle of some of the most expensive real 
estate on earth. 

Almost immediately after she raked her long fingernails down his well-educated cheeks, 
the doctor was off to the races, exiting the room quickly, dashing up the staircase into 
Egyptian history. We were left milling about, unable to stifle cynical remarks. What I 
failed to hear, then or later, was a single word of sympathy for his travail. Word of the 
incident traveled quickly through the three-story building, the event was postmortemed 
for days. 

I should be ashamed to say it, but I felt traces of amusement at his plight, at the money 
wasted, at the temporary chagrin of important people. Not a word was ever said again 
about Gattegno again in my presence. I read a few pages of his slim volume and found 
them intelligent, but for some unaccountable reason I couldn't muster interest enough to 
read on. Probably because there isn't any trick to teaching children to read by very old- 
fashioned methods, which makes it difficult to work up much enthusiasm for novelty. 

Truth to tell, the reading world doesn't need a better mousetrap. If you look up his work 
in the library, I'd appreciate it if you'd drop me a postcard explaining what his colorful 
plan was all about. 


New teachers and even beleaguered veterans are hardly in any position to stand back far 
enough to see clearly the bad effect the dramatic setting of the building — its rules, 
personalities, and hidden dynamics — has on their own outlook and on children's lives. 
About one kid in five in my experience is in acute torment from the intimidation of peers, 
maybe more are driven to despair by the indifference of official machinery. What the 
hounded souls can't possibly see is that from a system standpoint, they are the problem 
with their infernal whining, not their persecutors. 

And for every one broken by intimidation, another breaks himself just to get through the 
days, months, and years ahead. This huge silent mass levels a moral accusation lowly 
teachers become conscious of only at their peril because there is neither law nor 
institutional custom to stop the transgressions. Young, idealistic teachers burn out in the 
first three years because they can't solve administrative and collegial indifference, often 
concluding mistakenly that consciously willed policies of actual human beings — a 
principal here, a department head or union leader there — are causing the harm, when 
indifference is a system imperative; it would collapse from its contradictions if too much 
sensitivity entered the operating formula. 

I would have been odds-on to become one of these martyrs to inadequate understanding 
of the teaching situation but for a fortunate accident. By the late 1960s I had exhausted 
my imagination inside the conventional classroom when all of a sudden a period of 
phenomenal turbulence descended upon urban schoolteaching everywhere. I'll tell you 
more about this in a while, but for the moment, suffice it to say that supervisory 
personnel were torn loose from their moorings, superintendents, principals and all the rest 
flung to the wolves by those who actually direct American schooling. In this dark time, 
local management cowered. During one three-year stretch I can remember, we had four 
principals and three superintendents. The net effect of this ideological bombardment, 
which lasted about five years in its most visible manifestation, was to utterly destroy the 
utility of urban schools. From my own perspective all this was a godsend. Surveillance of 
teachers and administrative routines lost their bite as school administrators scurried like 
rats to escape the wrath of their unseen masters, while I suddenly found myself in 
possession of a blank check to run my classes as I pleased as long as I could secure the 
support of key parents. 

Hector Of The Feeble-Mind 

See thirteen-year-old Hector Rodriguez 1 as I first saw him: slightly built, olive-skinned, 
short, with huge black eyes, his body twisting acrobatically as he tried to slip under the 
gated defenses of the skating rink on the northern end of Central Park one cold November 
day. Up to that time I had known Hector for several months but had never really seen 

him, nor would I have seen him then but for the startling puzzle he presented by 
gatecrashing with a fully paid admission ticket in his pocket. Was he nuts? 

This particular skating rink sits in a valley requiring patrons to descend several flights of 
concrete steps to reach the ice. When I counted bodies at the foot of the stairs, Hector was 
missing. I went back up the stairs to find Hector wedged in the bars of the revolving 
security gate. "You little imbecile," I screamed. "Why are you sneaking in? You have a 
ticket!" No answer, but his expression told me his answer. It said, "Why shout? I know 
what I'm doing, I have principles to uphold." He actually looked offended by my lack of 

Hector was solving a problem. Could the interlocking bars of the automatic turnstile be 
defeated? What safer way to probe than with a paid ticket in hand in case he got caught. 
Later as I searched school records for clues to understand this boy, I discovered in his 
short transit on earth he had already left a long outlaw trail behind him. And yet, although 
none of his crimes would have earned more than a good spanking a hundred years earlier, 
now they helped support a social service empire. By substituting an excessive response 
for an appropriate (minimal) reaction, behavior we sought to discourage has doubled and 
redoubled. It is implicit in the structure of institutional logic that this happens. What's 
bad for real people is the very guarantee of institutional amorality. 

At the time of this incident, Hector attended one of the fifty- five public schools with the 
lowest academic ratings in New York State, part of a select group threatened with 
takeover by state custodians. Seven of the nine rapists of the Central Park jogger — a case 
that made national headlines some years back — were graduates of the school. Of the 
thirteen classes in Hector's grade, a full nine were of higher rank than the one he was in. 
Hector might be seen at twelve as an exhausted salmon swimming upstream in a raging 
current trying to sweep away his dignity. We had deliberately unleashed such a flood by 
assigning about eleven hundred kids in all, to five strictly graduated categories: 

First Class was called "Gifted and Talented Honors." 

Second Class was called "Gifted and Talented." 

Third Class was called "Special Progress." 

Fourth Class was called "Mainstream." 

Fifth Class was called "Special Ed." These last kids had a cash value to the school three 

times higher than the others, a genuine incentive to find fatal defects where none existed. 

Hector was a specimen from the doomed category called Mainstream, itself further 
divided into alphabetized subcategories — A, B, C, or D. Worst of the worst above Special 
Ed would be Mainstream D where he reported. Since Special Ed was a life sentence of 
ostracism and humiliation at the hands of the balance of the student body, we might even 
call Hector "lucky" to be Mainstream, though as Mainstream D, he was suspended in that 
thin layer of mercy just above the truly doomed. Hector's standardized test scores placed 
him about three years behind the middle of the rat-pack. This, and his status as an 
absolute cipher (where school activities, sports, volunteer work, and good behavior were 

concerned) would have made it difficult enough for anyone prone to be his advocate, but 
in Hector's case, he wasn't just behind an eight-ball, he was six feet under one. 

Shortly after I found him breaking and entering (the skating rink), Hector was arrested in 
a nearby elementary school with a gun. It was a fake gun but it looked pretty real to the 
school secretaries and principal. I found out about this at my school faculty Christmas 
party when the principal came bug-eyed over to the potato salad where I camped, crying, 
GATTO, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME? His exact words. Hector had been 
dismissed for holiday only that morning; he then hightailed it immediately to his old 
elementary school, still in session, to turn the younger children loose, to free the pint- 
sized slaves like a modern Spartacus. Come forward now one year in time: Hector in high 
school, second report card. He failed every subject, and was absent enough to be cited for 
truancy. But you could have guessed that before I told you because you read the same 
sociology books I do. 

Can you see the Hector trapped inside these implacable school records? Poor, small for 
his age, part of a minority, not accounted much by people who matter, dumb, in a super- 
dumb class, a bizarre gatecrasher, a gunslinger, a total failure in high school? Can you see 
Hector? Certainly you think you do. How could you not? The system makes it so easy to 
classify him and predict his future. 

What is society to do with its Hectors? This is the boy, multiplied by millions, that school 
people have been agonizing about in every decade of the twentieth century. This is the 
boy who destroyed the academic mission of American public schooling, turning it into a 
warehouse operation, a clinic for behavioral training and attitude adjustment. Hector's 
principal said to the Christian Science Monitor when it made a documentary film about 
my class and Hector's, "Sure the system stinks, but John [Gatto] has nothing to replace it. 
And as bad as the system is, it's better than chaos." 

But is the only alternative to a stifling system really chaos? 

'Not his real name 

Hector Isn't The Problem 

The country has been sold a bill of goods that the problem of modern schooling is Hector. 
That's a demon we face, that misperception. Under its many faces and shape-shifting 
rhetoric, forced schooling itself was conceived as the frontline in a war against chaos. 
Horace Mann wrote once to Reverend Samuel May, "Schools will be found to be the way 
God has chosen for the reformation of the world." School is the beginning of the process 
to keep Hector and his kind in protective custody. Important people believe with the 
fervor of religious energy that civilization can only survive if the irrational, unpredictable 
impulses of human nature are continually beaten back, confined until their demonic 
vitality is sapped. 

Read Merle Curti's Social Ideas of the Great Educators, a classic which will never be 
allowed to go out of print as long as we have college courses as gatekeeper for teacher 
certification. Curti shows that every single one of the greats used this Impending Chaos 
argument in front of financial tycoons to marshal support for the enlargement of forced 

I don't want to upset you, but I'm not sure. I have evidence Hector isn't what school and 
society make him out to be, data that will give a startlingly different picture. During the 
period when the skating incident and school stickup occurred, Senator Bob Kerrey of 
Nebraska was putting together an education plank in order to run for his party's 
presidential nomination. To that end, his office called me to inquire whether I could meet 
with the Senator to discuss an article I wrote which had been printed in the Congressional 
Record. It was agreed we would meet for breakfast at Manhattan's famous Algonquin 
Hotel, site of the famous literary Roundtable. Hector and his close friend Kareem would 
join us. 

Our conference lasted three hours without any bell breaks. It was cordial but businesslike 
with the senator asking hard questions and his assistant, a vivacious attractive woman, 
taking notes. Hector dominated the discussion. Concise, thoughtful, inventive, balanced 
in his analysis, graceful in his presentation with the full range of sallies, demurs, 
illustrations, head-cockings, and gestures you might expect from a trained 
conversationalist. Where had he learned to handle himself that way? Why didn't he act 
this way in school? 

As time passed, Hector gravitated bit by bit to the chair where the woman I thought to be 
Kerrey's assistant was sitting. Hector perched in a natural posture on its arm, still 
apparently intent on the verbal give and take, but I noticed he cast a smoldering glance 
directly down at the lady. By a lucky accident I got a snapshot of him doing it. It turned 
out she was the movie star Debra Winger! Hector was taking both Washington and 
Hollywood in stride while eating a trencherman's breakfast at a class hotel! He proved to 
be a valuable colleague in our discussion too, I think the Senator would agree. 

In April of the following year, Hector borrowed fifteen dollars from me to buy pizza for a 
young woman attending Columbia University's School of International Affairs. As far as 
Hector was concerned, being a graduate student was only her cover — in his world of 
expertise as a knowledgeable student of the comic book industry (and a talented self- 
taught graphic artist), she was, in reality, a famous writer for Marvel Comics. The full 
details of their liaison are unknown to me, but a brilliant piece of documentary film 
footage exists of this young woman giving a private seminar to Hector and Kareem under 
an old oak tree on the Columbia campus. What emerged from the meetings between 
writer and diminutive hold-up man was a one-day-a-week private workshop at her studio 
just north of Wall Street. 

In November of that same year, utterly unknown to his school (where he was considered 
a dangerous moron), all gleaming in white tie, tails and top hat, Hector acted as master of 
ceremonies for a program on school reform at Carnegie Hall, complete with a classical 

pianist and a lineup of distinguished speakers, including the cantankerous genius Mary 
Leue, founder of the Albany Free School, and several of my former students. 

The following spring, just after he produced his unblemished record of failure as a high 
school freshman, Hector came to me with a job application. An award-winning cable 
television show was packaging kids into four-person production teams to make segments 
for a television magazine format hour like 60 Minutes. Hector wanted to work there. 

I sprang the bad news to him right away: "Your goose is cooked," I said. "You'll sit down 
in that interview and they'll ask you how you're doing in school. You'll say, 'Listen, I'm 
failing all my subjects and oh, another thing, the only experience I have with TV is 
watching it until my eyeballs bug out — unless you count the time they filmed me at the 
police station to scare me. Why would they want to scare me? I think it was because I 
held up an elementary school and they didn't want me to do it again.' 

"So you're dead the minute they run your interview on any conventional lines. But you 
might have a slim chance if you don't follow the form sheet. Don't do what other kids 
will. Don't send in an application form. Guidance counselors will pass these out by the 
thousands. Use a typed resume and a cover letter the way a real person would. And don't 
send it to some flunky, call up the station, find out who the producer of the show is, say 
in a letter that you're not the greatest sit-down student in the world because you have 
your own ideas, but that you've come to understand film through an intense study of 
comic art and how it produces its effects. All that's true, by the way. Mention casually 
you have a private apprenticeship with one of the big names in the comic business and 
that you've done consultation work for the famous Nuyorican Poet's Cafe...." 

"I have?" asked Hector. 

"Sure. Don't you remember all those times you sat around with Roland chewing the fat 
when he was trying to shoot his film last year? Roland's one of the founders of the 
Nuyorican. And toss in your emceeing at Carnegie Hall; that ought to set you apart from 
the chumps. Now let's get on with that resume and cover letter. As sure as I'm sitting 
here, they'll only get one cover letter and resume. That should buy you an interview. 

"The only way you can squeak through that interview though is to convince someone by 
your behavior you can do the job better than anyone else. They'll be staring the spots off 
your every move, your clothing, your gestures, trying to see into your soul. Your goose is 
cooked if you get caught in a grilling." 

"You mean I'll shift around," Hector asked, "and get an attitude in my voice, don't you?" 

"Right, just before the shifty look comes into your eyes!" I said. 

We both laughed. 

"So, what do I do?" Hector asked. 

"The only thing you can do is quietly take over the interview. By quietly, I mean in a way 
they won't understand what's happening. You and I will just sit here until we figure out 
every single question they might ask, and every single need they might have which they 
won't tell you about, and every single fear they have that some aspect of your nature will 
screw up their project. Remember they're not hiring a kid to be nice people, they're 
hiring a kid because that's the gimmick of their show. So what you must do is to show by 
your commanding presence, impeccable manners, vast range of contacts, and dazzling 
intelligence that their fears are groundless. 

"You're going to show them you love work for its own sake, that you don't watch the 
time clock, that you can take orders when orders make sense, that you are a goldmine of 
ideas, that you're fun to be around. You'll have to master all this quickly because I have a 
hunch you'll be called in right after your letter arrives. Can you do it?" 

Six weeks later Hector started his new job. 

One Lawyer Equals 3,000 Reams Of Paper 

Once, a long time ago, I spoke before the District 3 School Board in Manhattan to plead 
that it not retain a private lawyer when all the legal work a school district is legitimately 
entitled to is provided free by the city's corporation counsel. In spite of this, the district 
had allocated $10,000 to retain a Brooklyn law firm. This is standard technique with 
boards everywhere which seek legal advice to get rid of their "enemies." They either 
prefer to conceal this from the corporation counsel or fear such work might be rejected as 
illegitimate. One school board member had already consulted with these same attorneys 
on five separate occasions pursuing some private vendetta, then submitting bills for 
payment against the school funds of the district. Sometimes this is simply a way to toss a 
tip to friends. 

My argument went as follows: 

In order to emphasize the magnitude of the loss this waste of money would entail — 
emblematic of dozens of similar wastes every year — I want to suggest some alternate 
uses for this money which will become impossible once it's spent on a lawyer none of the 
kids needs. It would buy: 

Three thousand reams of paper, 1,500,000 sheets. In September six of the schools in 
District 3 opened a school year without any paper at all. Letters from the principals of 
these schools to the school board, of which my wife has photocopies, will attest to this. It 
would buy enough chemicals and lab specimens to run the entire science program at I.S 
44 and Joan of Arc, nearly 2,000 copies of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare 
as discounted by Barnes and Noble in hardcover, enough sewing machines and 
fabrication supplies to offer six modern dressmaking classes. In light of the fact New 
York City's fashion industry is a major employer, it would seem a saner use of the funds. 
How many musical instruments, how much sports equipment, wood, ceramic materials, 
art supplies does $10,000 buy? The Urban League's "Children Teach Children" reading 

project could be put in the district, displacing armies of low-utility, $23-an-hour 
consultants. With $10,000 we could pay our own students $l-an-hour — receive better 
value — and see our money in the pockets of kids, not lawyers. Invested in stock or even 
30-year treasury notes as a scholarship fund, this money would return in perpetuity 
enough interest yearly to pay a kid's way through City University. The money in question 
would buy 50,000 pens. Eight computer installations. Two hundred winter coats for kids 
who are cold. 

I concluded with two suggestions: first, a referendum among parents to find out whether 
they would prefer one of the options above or a lawyer; second, to buy 10,000 lottery 
tickets so we all could have a thrill out of this potlatch instead of the solitary thrill a 
Brooklyn lawyer would have banking our check. 

Four years later, I appeared before the same school board, with the following somewhat 
darker statement: 

On September 3, 1986, my teaching license, which I had held for 26 years, was 
terminated secretly while I was on medical leave of absence for degenerative arthritis. 
The arthritis was contracted by climbing 80 steps a day to the third floor for more than a 
year — at the express request of the co-directors — with a badly broken hip held together 
by three large screws. 

Although papers for a medical leave of absence were signed and filed, these documents 
were destroyed at the district level, removed from central board medical offices. The 
current management apparently was instructed to deny papers had ever been filed, 
allowing the strange conclusion I had simply walked away from a quarter century of 
work and vanished. 

The notice terminating my teaching license was sent to an address where I hadn 't lived 
for twenty-two years. It was returned marked "not known at this address. " This satisfied 
the board's contractual obligation to notify me of my imminent dismissal, however 

When I returned to work from what I had no reason to assume wasn 't an approved leave, 
I was informed by personnel that I no longer worked for District 3, and that I could not 
work anywhere because I no longer had a teaching license. This could only be reinstated 
if my building principal would testify he knew I had properly filed for leave. Since this 
would involve the individual in serious legal jeopardy, it isn 't surprising my request for 
such a notice was ignored. 

From September 1987 to April of 1988 my family was plunged into misery as I sought to 
clear my name. Although I had personal copies of my leave forms at the first hearing on 
this matter, my building principal and the district personnel officer both claimed their 
signatures on the photocopies were forgeries. My appeal was denied. 

Just before the second hearing in March, a courageous payroll secretary swore before a 
public official that my leave extensions had always been on file at Lincoln, signed by 
school authorities. She testified that attempts had been made to have her surrender these 
copies, requests she refused. Production of her affidavit to this at my third hearing 
caused an eventual return of my license and all lost pay. At the moment of disclosure of 
that affidavit during a third grievance hearing, the female co-director shouted in an 
agitated voice, "The District doesn 't want him back!" 

I am asking for an investigation of this matter because my case is far from the only time 
this has happened in District 3. Indeed, all over New York this business is conducted so 
cynically that administrators violate basic canons of decency and actual law with 
impunity because they know the system will cover for them no matter how culpable their 

No comment was ever forthcoming from that Board of Education. Two years after my 
restoration, I was named New York City Teacher of the Year. Two years after that, New 
York State Teacher of the Year. A year later, after addressing the Engineer's Colloquium 
at NASA Space Center, invitations poured in to speak from every state in the union and 
from all over the world. But the damage my family had sustained carried lasting effects. 

Yet I proved something important, I think. On looking back at the whole sorry tapestry of 
the system as it revealed itself layer by layer in my agony, what was most impressive 
wasn't its horrifying power to treat me and my family without conscience or compassion, 
but its incredible weakness in the face of opposition. Battling without allies for thirty 
years, far from home and family, without financial resources, with no place to look for 
help except my native wit, nor for courage except to principles learned as a boy in a 
working-class town on the Monongahela River, I was able to back the school creature 
into such a corner it was eventually driven to commit crimes to get free of me. 

What that suggests is cause for great hope. A relative handful of people could change the 
course of schooling significantly by resisting the suffocating advance of centralization 
and standardization of children, by being imaginative and determined in their resistance, 
by exploiting manifold weaknesses in the institution's internal coherence: the disloyalty 
its own employees feel toward it. It took 150 years to build this apparatus; it won't quit 
breathing overnight. The formula is to take a deep breath, then select five smooth stones 
and let fly. The homeschoolers have already begun. 

The Great Transformation 

I lived through the great transformation which turned schools from often useful places (if 
never the essential ones school publicists claimed) into laboratories of state 
experimentation. When I began teaching in 1961, the social environment of Manhattan 
schools was a distant cousin of the western Pennsylvania schools I attended in the 1940s, 
as Darwin was a distant cousin of Malthus. 

Discipline was the daily watchword on school corridors. A network of discipline 
referrals, graded into an elaborate catalogue of well-calibrated offenses, was etched into 
the classroom heart. At bottom, hard as it is to believe in today's school climate, there 
was a common dedication to the intellectual part of the enterprise. I remember screaming 
(pompously) at an administrator who marked on my plan book that he would like to see 
evidence I was teaching "the whole child," that I didn't teach children at all, I taught the 
discipline of the English language! Priggish as that sounds, it reflects an attitude not 
uncommon among teachers who grew up in the 1940s and before. Even with much 
slippage in practice, Monongahela and Manhattan had a family relationship. About 
schooling at least. Then suddenly in 1965 everything changed. 

Whatever the event is that I'm actually referring to — and its full dimensions are still only 
partially clear to me — it was a nationwide phenomenon simultaneously arriving in all big 
cities coast to coast, penetrating the hinterlands afterwards. Whatever it was, it arrived all 
at once, the way we see national testing and other remote-control school matters like 
School-to-Work legislation appear in every state today at the same time. A plan was 
being orchestrated, the nature of which is unmasked in the upcoming chapters. 

Think of this thing for the moment as a course of discipline dictated by coaches outside 
the perimeter of the visible school world. It constituted psychological restructuring of the 
institution's mission, but traveled under the guise of a public emergency which (the 
public was told) dictated increasing the intellectual content of the business! Except for its 
nightmare aspect, it could have been a scene from farce, a swipe directly from Orwell's 
1984 and its fictional telly announcements that the chocolate ration was being raised 
every time it was being lowered. This reorientation did not arise from any democratic 
debate, or from any public clamor for such a peculiar initiative; the public was not 
consulted or informed. Best of all, those engineering the makeover denied it was 

I watched fascinated, as over a period of a hundred days, the entire edifice of public 
schooling was turned upside down. I know there was no advance warning to low-level 
administrators like principals, either, because I watched my first principal destroy himself 
trying to stem the tide. A mysterious new deal was the order of the day. 

Suddenly children were to be granted "due process" before any sanction, however mild, 
could be invoked. A formal schedule of hearings, referees, advocates, and appeals was set 
up. What might on paper have seemed only a liberal extension of full humanity to 
children was actually the starting gun for a time of mayhem. To understand this better, 
reflect a minute on the full array of ad hoc responses to wildness, cruelty, or incipient 
chaos teachers usually employ to keep the collective classroom a civil place at all. In a 
building with a hundred teachers, the instituting of an adversarial system of justice meant 
that within just weeks the building turned into an insane asylum. Bedlam, without a 
modicum of civility anywhere. 

This transformation, ironically enough, made administrative duty easier, because where 
once supervisory intercession had constituted, a regular link in the ladder of referral as it 

was called, in the new order, administrators were excused from minute-to-minute 
discipline and were granted power to assume that incidents were a teacher's fault, to be 
duly entered on the Cumulative Record File, the pedagogical equivalent of the Chinese 

There was a humorous aspect to what transpired over the next few years. I had no 
particular trouble keeping a lid on things, but for teachers who counted upon support 
from administrative staff it was a different story. Now, if they asked for a hand, often 
they were pressured to resign, or formally charged with bad classroom management, or 
worst of all, transferred to an even more hideous school in expectation they would 
eliminate themselves. 

Most, under such tension, took the hint and quit. A few had to be pushed. I remember a 
magnificent math teacher, an older black woman with honors and accomplishments to her 
name, much beloved and respected by her classes, singled out for public persecution 
probably because she acted as an intractable moral force, a strong model teacher with 
strong principles. Daily investigative teams from the district office watched her classes, 
busily took notes in the back of her room, challenged her style of presentation openly 
while children listened. This went on for two weeks. Then the administration began to 
call her students to the school office to interrogate them, one by one, about the teacher's 
behavior. They coached some kids to watch her during her classes, coached them to look 
for any telltale signs she was a racist! Parents were called and offered an option of 
withdrawing their kids from her classes. Broken by the ordeal, one day she vanished. 

When my wife was elected to the district school board, one of her first actions was to 
gain access to the superintendent's private files without his knowledge. Some of those 
records concerned details of official cases of harassment. Dozens of employees had been 
similarly purged, and dozens more were "under investigation" in this gulag on West 95th 
Street. Contacting these people in private, it became clear to me that, they were far from 
the worst teachers around. Indeed some were the best. Their relative prowess had 
emboldened them to speak out on policy matters and so marked them for elimination. 

One principal, whose school was the most successful reading environment in the district, 
received similar treatment, ultimately sentenced to an official Siberia in Harlem, given no 
duties at all for the two years more he lasted before quitting. His crime: allegedly striking 
a girl although there were no witnesses to this but the girl, a student who admitted 
breaking into the light-control panel room in the auditorium where the offense is 
supposed to have occurred. His real crime was his refusal to abandon phonetic reading 
methodology and replace it with a politically mandated whole-word substitute. 

I escaped the worst effects of the bloodbath. Mostly I minded my business trying to 
ignore the daily carnage. In truth I had no affection for the old system being savaged, and 
chaos made it easier for me to try out things that worked. On balance, I probably did my 
best work during those turbulent years as a direct result of the curious smokescreen they 

But accounts are not so simple to balance overall. If I regarded run-of-the-mill school 
administrators as scared rabbits or system flunkies, the reformers I saw parading daily 
through the building corridors looked like storm troopers and made my skin crawl. 

On several occasions, energetic efforts were made by these people to recruit my 
assistance as an active ally. All such appeals I politely refused. True belief they had, but 
for all of it they seemed like savages to me, inordinately proud of their power to cause 
fear, as willing to trample on the decencies as the people they were harassing as indecent. 
However, it seemed just possible something good might actually emerge from the 
shakeup underway. About that, I was dead wrong. As the project advanced, schools 
became noticeably worse. Bad to begin with, now they mutated into something horrible. 

What shape began to emerge was a fascinating echo of the same bureaucratic cancer 
which dogged the steps of the French, Russian, and Chinese revolutions. Do-nothing 
administrators and nonteaching teachers multiplied like locusts. With them came an 
entirely new class of school-teacher, one aggressively ignorant, cynical, and often tied to 
local political clubs. New categories of job description sprang up like weeds. 

My own school fell victim to a politically correct black gym teacher imported from New 
England to be its principal. Two schoolwide riots followed his installation, mass marches 
on city hall transpired in which local politicians instrumental in the man's selection used 
schoolchildren as unwitting cadres to lobby their favorite schemes in newsworthy, 
children's crusade fashion. 

A small band of old-fashioned teachers fought rearguard actions against this, but time 
retired them one by one until, with only an occasional exception, the classrooms of 
Community School District 3, in one of the most prosperous neighborhoods on earth, 
became lawless compounds, job projects for the otherwise unemployable. 

I need to wrap this up so we can get on with things. I have to skip the full story of the 
Hell's Angel math teacher who parked his Harley Hog outside the door of his classroom, 
and when the principal objected, told him in front of startled witnesses that if the man 
didn't shut his mouth, the number-crunching cyclist would come to his home that 
evening, pour gasoline under his front door, and set his house on fire. I have to skip the 
hair-raising stories of not one but three junior high teachers I knew quite well who 
married their students. Each, spotting a likely thirteen-year-old, wooed the respective girl 
in class and married her a few years later. They took the more honorable course, hardly 
the outcome of most teacher-student romances I was privy to. I have to skip the drug 
habits of staff in each of the buildings I worked in and other lurid stuff like that. In the 
midst of the unending dullness of institutional schooling, human nature cracks through 
the peeling paint as grass through cement. I have to skip all that. Suffice it to say, my life 
experience taught me that school isn't a safe place to leave your children. 

Education As A Helix Sport 

Here's a principle of real education to carry you through the moments of self-doubt. 
Education is a helix sport, a unique personal project like seatless unicycle riding over 
trackless wilderness, a sport that avoids rails, rules, and programmed confinement. The 
familiar versions of this are cross-country skiing, sailing, hang-gliding, skateboarding, 
surfing, solitary mountain climbing, thousand-mile walks, things like that. I think of 
education as one, too. 

In a helix sport the players search for a new relationship with themselves. They endure 
pain and risk to achieve this goal. Helix sports are free of expert micromanagement. 
Experts can't help you much in that moment of truth when a mistake might leave you 
dead. Helix sports are a revolt against predestination. 

Bringing children up properly is a helix sport forcing you to realize that no boy or girl on 
earth is just like another. If you do understand this you also understand there can exist no 
reliable map to tell you all you need to do. Process kids like sardines and don't be 
surprised when they come out oily and dead. In the words of the Albany Free School, if 
you aren't making it up as you go along, you aren't doing it right. 

The managerial and social science people who built forced schooling had no scruples 
about making your kids fit into their scheme. It's suffocating to the spirit to be treated 
this way. A young lady from Tucson wrote me, "Now that I'm nearly 25, 1 can hardly 
remember why I began to be afraid to go to school." I wrote back that she was afraid 
because her instincts warned her the school business had no use for the personal growth 
she sought. All pedagogical theory is based on stage theories of human development. All 
stage theories of child rearing talk in averages. The evidence before your own eyes and 
ears must show you that average men and women don't actually exist. Yet they remain 
the basis of social theory, even though such artificial constructs are useless to tell you 
anything valuable about your own implacably nonabstract child. 

I'm Outta Here! 

One day, after thirty years of this, I took a deep breath and quit. 


True Believers And The Unspeakable Chautauqua 

A very small group of young psychologists around the turn of the century were able to 
create and market a system for measuring human talent that has permeated American 
institutions of learning and influenced such fundamental social concepts as democracy, 
sanity, justice, welfare, reproductive rights, and economic progress. In creating, owning, 
and advertising this social technology the testers created themselves as professionals. 

— Joanne Brown, The Definition of a Profession: The Authority of Metaphor in the 
History of Intelligence Testing 

I have undertaken to get at the facts from the point of view of the business men — citizens 
of the community who, after all, pay the bills and, therefore, have a right to say what they 
shall have in their schools. 

— Charles H. Thurber, from an address at the Annual Meeting of the National Education 
Association, July 9, 1897 

Munsterberg And His Disciples 

The self-interested have had a large hand conceiving and executing twentieth-century 
schooling, yet once that's said, self-interest isn't enough to explain the zeal in confining 
other people's children in rooms, locked away from the world, the infernal zeal which, 
like a toadstool, keeps forcing its way to the surface in this business. Among millions of 
normal human beings professionally associated with the school adventure, a small band 
of true believers has been loose from the beginning, brothers and sisters whose eyes 
gleam in the dark, whose heartbeat quickens at the prospect of acting as "change agents" 
for a purpose beyond self-interest. 

For true believers, children are test animals. The strongest belt in the engine of schooling 
is the strand of true belief. True believers can be located by their rhetoric; it reveals a 
scale of philosophical imagination which involves plans for you and me. All you need 
know about Mr. Laszlo, whose timeless faith song is cited in the front of this book (xiii), 
is that the "we" he joins himself to, the "masters who manipulate," doesn't really include 
the rest of us, except as objects of the exercise. Here is a true believer in full gallop. 
School history is crammed with wild-eyed orators, lurking just behind the lit stage. Like 
Hugo Munsterberg. 

Munsterberg was one of the people who was in on the birth of twentieth-century mass 
schooling. In 1892, a recent emigre to America from Wilhelm Wundt's laboratory of 
physiological psychology at Leipzig, in Saxony, he was a Harvard Professor of 
Psychology. Munsterberg taught his students to look at schools as social laboratories 
suitable for testing theory, not as aggregates of young people pursuing their own 
purposes. The St. Louis Exposition of 1904 showcased his ideas for academicians all 

over the world, and the popular press made his notions familiar to upper middle classes 
horrified by the unfamiliar family ways of immigrants, eager to find ways to separate 
immigrant children from those alien practices of their parents. 

Munsterberg's particular obsession lay in quantifying the mental and physical powers of 
the population for central government files, so policymakers could manage the nation's 
"human resources" efficiently. His students became leaders of the "standardization" 
crusade in America. Munsterberg was convinced that racial differences could be reduced 
to numbers, equally convinced it was his sacred duty to the Aryan race to do so. 
Aryanism crackled like static electricity across the surface of American university life in 
those days, its implications part of every corporate board game and government bureau 

One of Munsterberg's favorite disciples, Lillian Wald, became a powerful advocate of 
medical incursions into public schools. The famous progressive social reformer wrote in 
1905: "It is difficult to place a limit upon the service which medical inspection should 
perform," 1 continuing, "Is it not logical to conclude that physical development. ..should so 
far as possible be demanded?" One year later, immigrant public schools in Manhattan 
began performing tonsillectomies and adenoidectomies in school without notifying 
parents. The New York Times (June 29, 1906) reported that "Frantic Italians" — many 
armed with stilettos — "stormed" three schools, attacking teachers and dragging children 
from the clutches of the true believers into whose hands they had fallen. Think of the 
conscience which would ascribe to itself the right to operate on children at official 
discretion and you will know beyond a doubt what a true believer smells like. 

Even a cursory study of the history of the school institution turns up true belief in rich 
abundance. In a famous book, The Proper Study of Mankind (1948), paid for by the 
Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Russell Sage Foundation, the favorite 
principle of true believers since Plato makes an appearance: "A society could be 
completely made over in something like 15 years, the time it takes to inculcate a new 
culture into a rising group of youngsters." Despite the spirit of profound violence 
hovering over such seemingly bloodless, abstract formulas, this is indeed the will-o-the- 
wisp pursued throughout the twentieth century in forced schooling — not intellectual 
development, not character development, but the inculcation of a new synthetic culture in 
children, one designed to condition its subjects to a continual adjusting of their lives by 
unseen authorities. 

It's true that numerically, only a small fraction of those who direct institutional schooling 
are actively aware of its ideological bent, but we need to see that without consistent 
generalship from that knowledgeable group in guiding things, the evolution of schooling 
would long ago have lost its coherence, degenerating into battles between swarms of 
economic and political interests fighting over the treasure-house that hermetic pedagogy 
represents. One of the hardest things to understand is that true believers — dedicated 
ideologues — are useful to all interests in the school stew by providing a salutary 
continuity to the enterprise. 

Because of the predictable greed embedded in this culture, some overarching "guardian" 
vision, one indifferent to material gain, seems necessary to prevent marketplace chaos. 
True believers referee the school game, establishing its goals, rules, penalties; they 
negotiate and compromise with other stakeholders. And strangely enough, above all else, 
they can be trusted to continue being their predictable, dedicated, selfless selves. 
Pragmatic stakeholders need them to keep the game alive; true believers need pragmatists 
as cover. Consider this impossibly melodramatic if you must. I know myself that parts of 
my story sound like leaves torn from Ragtime. But from start to finish this is a tale of true 
believers and how by playing on their pipes they took all the children away. 

1 Forced medical inspection had been a prominent social theme in northern Germany since at least 1750. 

The Prototype Is A Schoolteacher 

One dependable signal of a true believer's presence is a strong passion for everyone 's 
children. Find nonstop, abstract interest in the collective noun "children," the kind of love 
Pestalozzi or Froebel had, and you've flushed the priesthood from its lair. Eric Hoffer 
tells us the prototype true believer is a schoolteacher. Mao was a schoolteacher, so was 
Mussolini, so were many other prominent warlike leaders of our time, including Lyndon 
Johnson. In Hoffer' s characterization, the true believer is identified by inner fire, "a 
burning conviction we have a holy duty to others." Lack of humor is one touchstone of 
true belief. 

The expression "true believer" is from a fifth-century book, The City of God, occurring in 
a passage where St. Augustine urges holy men and women to abandon fear and embrace 
their sacred work fervently. True Belief is a psychological frame you'll find useful to 
explain individuals who relentlessly pursue a cause indifferent to personal discomfort, 
indifferent to the discomfort of others. 1 All of us show a tiny element of true belief in our 
makeup, usually just enough to recognize the lunatic gleam in the eye of some purer 
zealot when we meet face to face. But in an age which distances us from hand-to-hand 
encounters with authority — removing us electronically, bureaucratically, and 
institutionally — the truly fanatical among us have been granted the luxury of full 
anonymity. We have to judge their presence by the fallout. 

Horace Mann exemplifies the type. From start to finish he had a mission. He spoke 
passionately at all times. He wrote notes to himself about "breaking the bond of 
association among workingmen." In a commencement harangue at Antioch College in 
1859, he said, "Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity." A few 
cynical critics snipe at Mann for lying about his imaginary school tour of Prussia (which 
led to the adoption of Prussian schooling methodologies in America), but those cynics 
miss the point. For the great ones, the goal is everything; the end justifies any means. 
Mann lived and died a social crusader. His second wife, Mary Peabody, paid him this 
posthumous tribute: "He was all afire with Purpose." 

Al Shanker, longtime president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in one of 
his last Sunday advertisements in The New York Times before his death: "Public schools 
do not exist to please Johnny's parents. They do not even exist to ensure that Johnny will 
one day earn a good living at a job he likes." No other energy but true belief can explain 
what Shanker might have had in mind. 

1 For instance, how else to get a handle on the Columbia Teachers College bureau head who delivered 
himself of this sentence in Education Week (March 18, 1998), in an essay titled "Altering Destinies": 
"Program officials consider no part of a student's life off limits." 

Teachers College Maintains The Planet 

A beautiful example of true belief in action crossed my desk recently from the alumni 
magazine of my own alma mater, Columbia University. Written by the director of 
Columbia's Institute for Learning Technologies, a bureau at Teachers College, this 
mailing informed graduates that the education division now regarded itself as bound by 
"a contract with posterity." Something in the tone warned me against dismissing this as 
customary institutional gas. Seconds later I learned, with some shock, that Teachers 
College felt obligated to take a commanding role in "maintaining the planet." The next 
extension of this strange idea was even more pointed. Teachers College now interpreted 
its mandate, I was told, as one compelling it "to distribute itself all over the world and to 
teach every day, 24 hours a day." 

To gain perspective, try to imagine the University of Berlin undertaking to distribute 
itself among the fifty American states, to be present in this foreign land twenty- four hours 
a day, swimming in the minds of Mormon children in Utah and Baptist children in 
Georgia. Any university intending to become global like some nanny creature spawned in 
Bacon's ghastly Utopia, New Atlantis, is no longer simply in the business of education. 
Columbia Teachers College had become an aggressive evangelist by its own 
announcement, an institution of true belief selling an unfathomable doctrine. I held its 
declaration in my hand for a while after I read it. Thinking. 

Let me underline what you just heard. Picture some U.N. thought police dragging 
reluctant Serbs to a loudspeaker to listen to Teachers College rant. Most of us have no 
frame of reference in which to fit such a picture. Narcosis in the face of true belief is a 
principal reason the disease progressed so far through the medium of forced schooling 
without provoking much major opposition. Only after a million homeschooling families 
and an equal number of religiously oriented private-school families emerged from their 
sleep to reclaim their children from the government in the 1970s and 1980s, in direct 
response to an epoch of flagrant social experimentation in government schools, did true 
belief find ruts in its road. 

Columbia, where I took an undergraduate degree, is the last agency I would want 
maintaining my planet. For decades it was a major New York slumlord indifferent to 
maintaining its own neighborhood, a territory much smaller than the globe. Columbia has 

been a legendary bad neighbor to the community for the forty years I've lived near my 
alma mater. So much for its qualifications as Planetary Guardian. Its second boast is even 
more ominous — I mean that goal of intervening in mental life "all over the world," 
teaching "every day, 24 hours a day." Teaching what? Shouldn't we ask? Our trouble in 
recognizing true belief is that it wears a reasonable face in modern times. 

A Lofty, Somewhat Inhuman Vision 

Take a case reported by the Public Agenda Foundation which produced the first-ever 
survey of educational views held by teachers college professors. To their surprise, the 
authors discovered that the majority of nine hundred randomly selected professors of 
education interviewed did not regard a teacher's struggle to maintain an orderly 
classroom or to cope with disruptive students as major problems! The education faculty 
was generally unwilling to attend to these matters seriously in their work, believing that 
widespread alarm among parents stemming from worry that graduates couldn't spell, 
couldn't count accurately, couldn't sustain attention, couldn't write grammatically (or 
write at all) was only caused by views of life "outmoded and mistaken." 

While 92 percent of the public thinks basic reading, writing, and math competency is 
"absolutely essential" (according to an earlier study by Public Agenda), education 
professors did not agree. In the matter of mental arithmetic, which a large majority of 
ordinary people, including some schoolteachers, consider very important, about 60 
percent of education professors think cheap calculators make that goal obsolete. 

The word passion appears more than once in the report from which these data are drawn, 
as in the following passage: 

Education professors speak with passionate idealism about their own, sometimes lofty, 
vision of education and the mission of teacher education programs. The passion translates 
into ambitious and highly-evolved expectations for future teachers, expectations that 
often differ dramatically from those of parents and teachers now in the classroom. "The 
soul of a teacher is what should be passed on from teacher to teacher," a Boston professor 
said with some intensity. "You have to have that soul to be a good teacher." 

It's not my intention at this moment to recruit you to one or another side of this debate, 
but only to hold you by the back of the neck as Uncle Bud (who you'll meet up ahead) 
once held mine and point out that this vehicle has no brake pedal — ordinary parents and 
students have no way to escape this passion. Twist and turn as they might, they will be 
subject to any erotic curiosity inspired love arouses. In the harem of true belief, there is 
scant refuge from the sultan's lusty gaze. 

Rain Forest Algebra 

In the summer of 1997, a Democratic senator stood on the floor of the Senate denouncing 
the spread of what he called "wacko algebra"; one widely distributed math text referred to 
in that speech did not ask a question requiring algebraic knowledge until page 107. What 

replaced the boredom of symbolic calculation were discussions of the role of zoos in 
community life, or excursions to visit the fascinating Dogon tribe of West Africa. 
Whatever your own personal attitude toward "rain forest algebra," as it was snidely 
labeled, you would be hard-pressed not to admit one thing: its problems are almost 
computation-free. Whether you find the mathematical side of social issues relevant or not 
isn't in question. Your attention should be fixed on the existence of minds, nominally in 
charge of number enlightenment for your children, which consider a private agenda more 
important than numbers. 

One week last spring, the entire math homework in fifth grade at middle-class P.S. 87 on 
the Upper West Side of Manhattan consisted of two questions: ' 

1 . Historians estimate that when Columbus landed on what is now the island of Hati 
[this is the spelling in the question] there were 250,000 people living there. In two 
years this number had dropped to 125,000. What fraction of the people who had 
been living in Hati when Columbus arrived remained? Why do you think the 
Arawaks died? 

2. In 1515 there were only 50,000 Arawaks left alive. In 1550 there were 500. If the 
same number of people died each year, approximately how many people would 
have died each year? In 1550 what percentage of the original population was left 
alive? How do you feel about this? 

Tom Loveless, professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, has no doubt 
that National Council of Teachers of Mathematics standards have deliberately de- 
emphasized math skills, and he knows precisely how it was done. But like other vigorous 
dissenters who have tried to arrest the elimination of critical intellect in children, he 
adduces no motive for the awesome project which has worked so well up to now. 
Loveless believes that the "real reform project has begun: writing standards that declare 
the mathematics children will learn." He may be right, but I am not so sanguine. 

Elsewhere there are clues which should check premature optimism. In 1989, according to 
Loveless, a group of experts in the field of math education launched a campaign "to 
change the content and teaching of mathematics." This new math created state and 
district policies which "tend to present math reform as religion" and identify as sinful 
behaviors teacher-delivered instruction, individual student desk work, papers corrected 
for error. Teachers are ordered to keep "an elaborate diary on each child's 'mathematical 

Specific skills de-emphasized are: learning to use fractions, decimals, percents, integers, 
addition, subtraction, multiplication, division — all have given way to working with 
manipulatives like beans and counting sticks (much as the Arawaks themselves would 
have done) and with calculators. Parents worry themselves sick when fifth graders can't 
multiply 7 times 5 without hunting for beans and sticks. Students who learn the facts of 
math deep down in the bone, says Loveless, "gain a sense of number unfathomable to 
those who don't know them." 

The question critics should ask has nothing to do with computation or reading ability and 
everything to do with this: How does a fellow human being come to regard ordinary 
people's children as experimental animals? What impulse triggers the pornographic urge 
to deprive kids of volition, to fiddle with their lives? It is vital that you consider this or 
you will certainly fall victim to appeals that you look at the worthiness of the outcomes 
sought and ignore the methods. This appeal to pragmatism urges a repudiation of 
principle, sometimes even on the grounds that modern physics "proves" there is no 
objective reality. 

Whether children are better off or not being spared the effort of thinking algebraically 
may well be a question worth debating but, if so, the burden of proof rests on the 
challenger. Short-circuiting the right to choice is a rapist's tactic or a seducer's. If, behind 
a masquerade of number study, some unseen engineer infiltrates the inner layers of a 
kid's consciousness — the type of subliminal influence exerted in rain forest algebra — 
tinkering with the way a child sees the larger world, then in a literal sense the purpose of 
the operation is to dehumanize the experimental subject by forcing him or her into a 
predetermined consensus. 

1 A P. S. 87 parent, Sol Stem, brought this information to my attention, adding this assessment, "The idea 
that schools can starve children of factual knowledge and basic skills, yet somehow teach critical thinking, 
defies common sense." Mr. Stem in his capacity as education editor of New York's City Journal often 
writes eloquently of the metropolitan school scene. 

Godless, But Not Irreligious 

True believers are only one component of American schooling, as a fraction probably a 
small one, but they constitute a tail that wags the dog because they possess a blueprint 
and access to policy machinery, while most of the rest of us do not. The true believers we 
call great educators — Komensky, Mather, Pestalozzi, Froebel, Mann, Dewey, Sears, 
Cubberley, Thorndike, et al. — were ideologues looking for a religion to replace one they 
never had or had lost faith in. As an abstract type, men like this have been analyzed by 
some of the finest minds in the history of modern thought — Machiavelli, Tocqueville, 
Renan, William James to name a few — but the clearest profile of the type was set down 
by Eric Hoffer, a one-time migrant farm worker who didn't learn to read until he was 
fifteen years old. In The True Believer, a luminous modern classic, Hoffer tells us: 

Though ours is a godless age, it is the very opposite of irreligious. The true believer is 
everywhere on the march, shaping the world in his own image. Whether we line up with 
him or against him, it is well we should know all we can concerning his nature and 

It looks to me as if the energy to run this train was released in America from the stricken 
body of New England Calvinism when its theocracy collapsed from indifference, 
ambition, and the hostility of its own children. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, 
shortly after we became a nation, this energy gave rise to what Allan Bloom dubbed "the 

new American religion," eventually combining elements of old Calvinism with flavors of 
Anabaptism, Ranting, Leveling, Quakerism, rationalism, positivism, and that peculiar 
Unitarian spice: scientism. 1 

Where the parent form of American Calvinism had preached the rigorous exclusion of all 
but a tiny handful deemed predestinated for salvation (the famous "Saints" or "justified 
sinners"), the descendant faith, beginning about the time of the Great Awakening of the 
1740s, demanded universal inclusion, recruitment of everyone into a universal, unitarian 
salvation — whether they would be so recruited or not. It was a monumental shift which in 
time infiltrated every American institution. In its demand for eventual planetary unity the 
operating logic of this hybrid religion, which derived from a medley of Protestant sects as 
well as from Judaism, in a cosmic irony was intensely Catholic right down to its core. 

After the Unitarian takeover of Harvard in 1805, orthodox Calvinism seemingly reached 
the end of its road, but so much explosive energy had been tightly bound into this intense 
form of sacred thought — an intensity which made every act, however small, brim with 
significance, every expression of personality proclaim an Election or Damnation — that in 
its structural collapse, a ferocious energy was released, a tornado that flashed across the 
Burned Over District of upstate New York, crossing the lakes to Michigan and other 
Germanized outposts of North America, where it split suddenly into two parts — one 
racing westward to California and the northwest territories, another turning southwest to 
the Mexican colony called Texas. Along the way, Calvin's by now much altered legacy 
deposited new religions like Mormonism and Seventh Day Adventism, raised colleges 
like the University of Michigan and Michigan State (which would later become fortresses 
of the new schooling religion) and left prisons, insane asylums, Indian reservations, and 
poorhouses in its wake as previews of the secularized global village it aimed to create. 

School was to be the temple of a new, all-inclusive civil religion. Calvinism had 
stumbled, finally, from being too self-contained. This new American form, learning from 
Calvinism's failure, aspired to become a multicultural super-system, world-girdling in the 
fullness of time. Our recent military invasions of Haiti, Panama, Iraq, the Balkans, and 
Afghanistan, redolent of the palmy days of British empire, cannot be understood from the 
superficial justifications offered. Yet, with an eye to Calvin's legacy, even foreign policy 
yields some of its secret springs. Calvinist origins armed school thinkers from the start 
with a utilitarian contempt for the notion of free will. 

Brain-control experiments being explored in the psychophysical labs of northern 
Germany in the last quarter of the nineteenth century attracted rich young men from 
thousands of prominent American families. Such mind science seemed to promise that 
tailor-made technologies could emerge to shape and control thought, technologies which 
had never existed before. Children, the new psychologies suggested, could be emptied, 
denatured, then reconstructed to more accommodating designs. H.G. Wells' Island of Dr. 
Moreau was an extrapolation-fable based on common university-inspired drawing room 
conversations of the day. 

David Hume's empirical philosophy, working together with John Locke's empiricism, 
had prepared the way for social thinkers to see children as blank slates — an opinion 
predominant among influentials long before the Civil War and implicit in Machiavelli, 
Bodin, and the Bacons. German psychophysics and physiological psychology seemed a 
wonderful manufactory of the tools a good political surgeon needed to remake the 
modern world. Methods for modifying society and all its inhabitants began to crystallize 
from the insights of the laboratory. A good living could be made by saying it was so, 
even if it weren't true. When we examine the new American teacher college movement at 
the turn of this century we discover a resurrection of the methodology of Prussian 
philosopher Herbart well underway. Although Herbart had been dead a long time by then, 
he had the right message for the new age. According to Herbart, "Children should be cut 
to fit." 

This essay is packed with references to Unitarians, Quakers, Anglicans, and other sects because without understanding something about their 
nature, and ambitions, it is utterly impossible to comprehend where school came from and why it took the shape it did. Nevertheless, it should 
be kept in mind that I am always referring to movements within these religions as they existed before the lifetime of any reader. Ideas set in 
motion long ago are still in motion because they took institutional form, but I have little knowledge of the modern versions of these sects, 
which for all I know are boiling a different kettle offish. 

Three groups descending from the seventeenth-century Puritan Reformation in England have been principal influences on American schooling, 
providing shape, infrastructure, ligatures, and intentions, although only one is popularly regarded as Puritan — the New England 
Congregationalists. The Congregational mind in situ, first around the Massachusetts coast, then by stages in the astonishing Connecticut Valley 
displacement (when Yale became its critical resonator), has been exhaustively studied. But Quakers, representing the left wing of Puritan 
thought, and Unitarians — that curious mirror obverse of Calvinism — are much easier to understand when seen as children of Calvinist energy, 
too. These three, together with the episcopacy in New York and Philadelphia, gathered in Columbia University and Penn, the Morgan Bank and 
elsewhere, have dominated the development of government schooling. Baptist Brown and Baptist Chicago are important to understand, too, 
and important bases of Dissenter variation like Presbyterian Princeton cannot be ignored, nor Baptist/Methodist centers at Dartmouth and 
Cornell, or centers of Freethought like Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and New York University in New York City. But someone in a hurry to 
understand where schooling came from and why it took the shape it did would not go far wrong by concentrating attention on the machinations 
of Boston, Philadelphia, Hartford, and New York City in school affairs from 1800 to 1850, or by simply examining the theologies of 
Congregationalism, Unitarianism, Hicksite and Gurneyite Quakerism, and ultimately the Anglican Communion, to discover how these, in 
complex interaction, have given us the forced schooling which so well suits their theologies. 

An Insider's Insider 

A bountiful source of clues to what tensions were actually at work back then can be 
found in Ellwood P. Cubberley's celebratory history, Public Education in the United 
States (1919, revised edition 1934), the standard in-house reference for official school 
legends until revisionist writings appeared in the 1960s. 

Cubberley was an insider's insider, in a unique position to know things neither public nor 
press could know. Although Cubberley always is circumspect and deliberately vague, he 
cannot help revealing more than he wants to. For example, the reluctance of the country 
to accept its new yoke of compulsion is caught briefly in this flat statement on page 564 
of the 1934 revision: 

The history of compulsory-attendance legislation in the states has been much the same 
everywhere, and everywhere laws have been enacted only after overcoming strenuous 

Reference here is to the period from 1852 to 1918 when the states, one by one, were 
caught in a compulsion net that used the strategy of gradualism: 

At first the laws were optional., later the law was made state-wide but the compulsory 
period was short (ten to twelve weeks) and the age limits low, nine to twelve years. After 
this, struggle came to extend the time, often little by little. extend the age limits 
downward to eight and seven and upwards to fourteen, fifteen or sixteen; to make the law 
apply to children attending private and parochial schools, and to require cooperation 
from such schools for the proper handling of cases; to institute state supervision of local 
enforcement; to connect school attendance enforcement with the child-labor legislation of 
the State through a system of working permits. ...[emphasis added] 

Noteworthy is the extent to which proponents of centralized schooling were prepared to 
act covertly in defiance of majority will and in the face of extremely successful and 
inexpensive local school heritage. As late as 1901, after nearly a half-century of such 
legislation — first in Massachusetts, then state by state in the majority of the remaining 
jurisdictions — Dr. Levi Seeley of Trenton Normal School could still thunder warnings of 
lack of progress. In his book Foundations of Education, he writes, "while no law on the 
statute books of Prussia is more thoroughly carried out [than compulsory attendance]..." 
He laments that " 1890, out of 5,300,000 Prussian children, only 645 slipped out of 
the truant officer's net..." but that our own school attendance legislation is nothing more 
than "dead letter laws": 

We have been attempting compulsory education for a whole generation and cannot be 
said to have made much progress — Let us cease to require only 20 weeks of schooling, 
12 of which shall be consecutive, thus plainly hinting that we are not serious in the 

Seeley's frustration clouded his judgment. Somebody was most certainly serious about 
mass confinement schooling to stay at it so relentlessly and expensively in the face of 
massive public repudiation of the scheme. 

Compulsion Schooling 

The center of the scheme was Massachusetts, the closest thing to a theocracy to have 
emerged in America. The list below is a telling record of the long gap between the 
Massachusetts compulsory law of 1 852 and similar legislation adopted by the next set of 
states. Instructive also in the chronology is the place taken by the District of Columbia, 
the seat of federal government. 

Compulsory School Legislation 

1852 Massachusetts 1875 Maine 

1 865 District of Columbia New Jersey 

1 867 Vermont 1 876 Wyoming Territory 

1 87 1 New Hampshire 1 877 Ohio 

Washington Territory 1 879 Wisconsin 

1 872 Connecticut 1 883 Rhode Island 
New Mexico Territory Illinois 

1 873 Nevada Dakota Territory 

1 874 New York Montana Territory 


Six other Western states and territories were added by 1890. Finally in 1918, sixty-six 
years after the Massachusetts force legislation, the forty-eighth state, Mississippi, enacted 
a compulsory school attendance law. Keep in mind Cubberley's words: everywhere there 
was "strenuous opposition." 

De-Moralizing School Procedure 

But a strange thing happened as more and more children were drawn into the net, a crisis 
of an unexpected sort. At first those primitive one-room and two-room compulsion 
schools — even the large new secondary schools like Philadelphia's Central High — 
poured out large numbers of trained, disciplined intellects. Government schoolteachers in 
those early days chose overwhelmingly to emulate standards of private academies, and to 
a remarkable degree they succeeded in unwittingly sabotaging the hierarchical plan being 
moved on line. Without a carefully trained administrative staff (and most American 
schools had no administrators), it proved impossible to impose the dumbing-down 
process 1 promised by the German prototype. In addition, right through the 1920s, a 
skilled apprenticeship alternative was active in the United States, traditional training that 
still honored our national mythology of success. 

Ironically, the first crisis provoked by the new school institution was taking its rhetorical 
mandate too seriously. From it poured an abundance of intellectually trained minds at 
exactly the moment when the national economy of independent livelihoods and 
democratic workplaces was giving way to professionally managed, accountant-driven 
hierarchical corporations which needed no such people. The typical graduate of a one- 
room school represented a force antithetical to the logic of corporate life, a cohort 
inclined to judge leadership on its merit, one reluctant to confer authority on mere titles. 2 

Immediate action was called for. Cubberley's celebratory history doesn't examine 
motives, but does uneasily record forceful steps taken just inside the new century to nip 
the career of intellectual schooling for the masses in the bud, replacing it with a different 
goal: the forging of "well-adjusted" citizens. 

Since 1900, and due more to the activity of persons concerned with social legislation and 
those interested in improving the moral welfare of children than to educators themselves, 
there has been a general revision of the compulsory education laws of our States and the 
enactment of much new child- welfare... and anti-child-labor legislation. ...These laws have 
brought into the schools not only the truant and the incorrigible, who under former 
conditions either left early or were expelled, but also many children... who have no 

aptitude for book learning and many children of inferior mental qualities who do not 
profit by ordinary classroom procedures. ...Our schools have come to contain many 
children who. ..become a nuisance in the school and tend to demoralize school procedure. 
[emphasis added] 

We're not going to get much closer to running face-to-face into the true believers and the 
self-interested parties who imposed forced schooling than in Cubberley's mysterious 
"persons concerned with social legislation." At about the time Cubberley refers to, Walter 
Jessup, president of the University of Iowa, was publicly complaining, "Now America 
demands we educate the whole.... It is a much more difficult problem to teach all children 
than to teach those who want to learn." 

Common sense should tell you it isn't "difficult" to teach children who don't want to 
learn. It's impossible. Common sense should tell you "America" was demanding nothing 
of the sort. But somebody most certainly was insisting on universal indoctrination in class 
subordination. The forced attendance of children who want to be elsewhere, learning in a 
different way, meant the short happy career of academic public schooling was 
deliberately foreclosed, with "democracy" used as the excuse. The new inclusive 
pedagogy effectively doomed the bulk of American children. 

What you should take away from this is the deliberate introduction of children who 
"demoralize school procedure," children who were accommodated prior to this legislation 
in a number of other productive (and by no means inferior) forms of training, just as 
Benjamin Franklin had been. Richard Hofstadter and other social historians have 
mistakenly accepted at face value official claims that "democratic tradition" — the will of 
the people — imposed this anti-intellectual diet on the classroom. Democracy had nothing 
to do with it. 

What we are up against is a strategic project supported by an uneasy coalition of elites, 
each with its own private goals in mind for the common institution. Among those goals 
was the urge to go to war against diversity, to impose orthodoxy on heterodox society. 
For an important clue to how this was accomplished we return to Cubberley: 

The school reorganized its teaching along lines dictated by the new psychology of 
instruction which had come to us from abroad.... Beginning about 1880 to 1885 our 
schools began to experience a new but steady change in purpose [though] it is only since 
about 1900 that any marked and rapid changes have set in. 

The new psychology of instruction cited here is the new experimental psychology of 
Wilhelm Wundt at Leipzig, which dismissed the very existence of mind as an 
epiphenomenon. Children were complex machines, capable of infinite "adjustments." 
Here was the beginning of that new and unexpected genus of schooling which Bailyn said 
"troubled well-disposed, high-minded people," and which elevated a new class of 
technocrat like Cubberley and Dewey to national prominence. The intention to sell 
schooling as a substitute for faith is caught clearly in Cubberley's observation: "However 
much we may have lost interest in the old problems of faith and religion, the American 

people have come to believe thoroughly in education." New subjects replaced "the old 
limited book subject curriculum, both elementary and secondary." 

This was done despite the objections of many teachers and citizens, and much ridicule 
from the public press. Many spoke sneeringly of the new subjects. 

Cubberley provides an accurate account of the prospective new City on the Hill for which 
"public education" was to be a prelude, a City which rose hurriedly after the failed 
populist revolt of 1896 frightened industrial leaders. I've selected six excerpts from 
Cubberley's celebrated History which allow you to see, through an insider's eyes, the 
game that was afoot a century ago as U.S. school training was being fitted for its German 
uniform. (All emphasis in the list that follows is my own): 

1 . The Spanish-American War of 1898 served to awaken us as a nation... It revealed 
to us something of the position we should be called on to occupy in world 

2. For the two decades following.... the specialization of labor and the introduction 
of labor-saving machinery tookplace to an extent before unknown.... The national 
and state government were called upon to do many things for the benefit of the 
people never attempted before. 

3. Since 1898, education has awakened a public interest before unknown.... 
Everywhere state educational commissions and city school surveys have 
evidenced a new critical attitude.... Much new educational legislation has been 
enacted; permission has been changed to obligation; minimum requirements have 
been laid down by the States in many new directions; and new subjects of 
instruction have been added by the law. Courses of study have been entirely made 

over and new types of textbooks have appeared A complete new system of 

industrial education, national in scope, has been developed. 

4. New normal schools have been founded and higher requirements have been 
ordered for those desiring to teach. College departments of education have 
increased from eleven in 1891 to something like five hundred today [1919] . 
Private gifts to colleges and universities have exceeded anything known before in 
any land. School taxes have been increased, old school funds more carefully 
guarded, and new constitutional provisions as to education have been added. 

5 . Compulsory education has begun to be a reality, and child-labor laws to be 

6. A new interest in child-welfare and child-hygiene has arisen, evidencing 
commendable desire to look after the bodies as well as the minds of children.... 

Here in a brief progression is one window on the problem of modern schooling. It set out 
to build a new social order at the beginning of the twentieth century (and by 1970 had 
succeeded beyond all expectations), but in the process it crippled the democratic 

experiment of America, disenfranchising ordinary people, dividing families, creating 
wholesale dependencies, grotesquely extending childhoods. It emptied people of full 
humanity in order to convert them into human resources. 

1 It was not really until the period around 1914 that sufficient teacher training facilities, regulated 
texts,controlled certification, uniform testing, stratified administrative cadres, and a sufficiently alienated 
public allowed the new age of schooling to tentatively begin. 

2 In conservative political theory dating back to Thucydides, meritocracy is seen as a box of trouble. It 
creates such a competitive flux that no society can remain orderly and loyal to its governors because the 
governors can't guarantee preferment in licensing, appointments, grants, etc., in return. Meritocratic 
successes, having earned their place, are notoriously disrespectful. The most infamous meritocrat of history 
was Alcibiades, who ruined Athens, a cautionary name known to every elite college class, debating society, 
lyceum, or official pulpit in America. 

William Torrey Harris 

If you have a hard time believing that this revolution in the contract ordinary Americans 
had with their political state was intentionally provoked, it's time for you to meet 
William Torrey Harris, U.S. Commissioner of Education from 1889 to 1906. No one, 
other than Cubberley, who rose out of the ranks of professional pedagogues ever had as 
much influence as Harris. Harris both standardized and Germanized our schools. Listen 
to his voice from The Philosophy of Education, published in 1906: 

Ninety-nine [students] out of a hundred are automata, careful to walk in prescribed paths, 
careful to follow the prescribed custom. This is not an accident but the result of 
substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual. 
—The Philosphy of Education (1906) 

Listen to Harris again, giant of American schooling, leading scholar of German 
philosophy in the Western hemisphere, editor and publisher of The Journal of Speculative 
Philosophy which trained a generation of American intellectuals in the ideas of the 
Prussian thinkers Kant and Hegel, the man who gave America scientifically age-graded 
classrooms to replace successful mixed-age school practice. Again, from The Philosophy 
of Education, Harris sets forth his gloomy vision: 

The great purpose of school can be realized better in dark, airless, ugly places.... It is to 
master the physical self, to transcend the beauty of nature. School should develop the 
power to withdraw from the external world. 
—The Philosphy of Education (1906) 

Nearly a hundred years ago, this schoolman thought self-alienation was the secret to 
successful industrial society. Surely he was right. When you stand at a machine or sit at a 
computer you need an ability to withdraw from life, to alienate yourself without a 
supervisor. How else could that be tolerated unless prepared in advance by simulated 

Birkenhead drills? School, thought Harris, was sensible preparation for a life of 
alienation. Can you say he was wrong? 

In exactly the years Cubberley of Stanford identified as the launching time for the school 
institution, Harris reigned supreme as the bull goose educator of America. His was the 
most influential voice teaching what school was to be in a modern, scientific state. School 
histories commonly treat Harris as an old-fashioned defender of high academic standards, 
but this analysis is grossly inadequate. Stemming from his philosophical alignment with 
Hegel, Harris believed that children were property and that the state had a compelling 
interest in disposing of them as it pleased. Some would receive intellectual training, most 
would not. Any distinction that can be made between Harris and later weak curriculum 
advocates (those interested in stupefaction for everybody) is far less important than 
substantial agreement in both camps that parents or local tradition could no longer 
determine the individual child's future. 

Unlike any official schoolman until Conant, Harris had social access to important salons 
of power in the United States. Over his long career he furnished inspiration to the 
ongoing obsessions of Andrew Carnegie, the steel man who first nourished the conceit of 
yoking our entire economy to cradle-to-grave schooling. If you can find copies of The 
Empire of Business (1902) or Triumphant Democracy (1886), you will find remarkable 
congruence between the world Carnegie urged and the one our society has achieved. 

Carnegie's "Gospel of Wealth" idea took his peers by storm at the very moment the great 
school transformation began — the idea that the wealthy owed society a duty to take over 
everything in the public interest, was an uncanny echo of Carnegie's experience as a boy 
watching the elite establishment of Britain and the teachings of its state religion. It would 
require perverse blindness not to acknowledge a connection between the Carnegie 
blueprint, hammered into shape in the Greenwich Village salon of Mrs. Botta after the 
Civil War, and the explosive developments which restored the Anglican worldview to our 

Chapter Six 

The Lure of Utopia 

Every morning when you picked up your newspaper you would read of some new scheme 
for saving the world. ..soon all the zealots, all the Come-Outers, all the transcendentalists 
of Boston gathered at the Chardon Street Chapel and harangued each other for three 
mortal days. They talked on nonresistance and the Sabbath reform, of the Church and the 
Ministry, and they arrived at no conclusions. "It was the most singular collection of 
strange specimens of humanity that was ever assembled, " wrote Edmund Quincy, and 
Emerson was even more specific: "Madmen, madwomen, men with beards, Dunkers, 
Muggletonians, Come-Outers, Groaners, Agrarians, Seventh-day Baptists, Quakers, 
Abolitionists, Calvinists, Unitarians, and Philosophers, all came successively to the top 
and seized their moment, if not their hour, wherein to chide, or pray, or preach or 
protest. ...There was some-thing artificial about the Chardon Street debates, there was a 
hothouse atmosphere in the chapel. There was too much suffering fools gladly, there was 
too much talk, too much display of learning and of wit, and there was, for all the talk of 
tolerance, an unchristian spirit. 
— Henry Steele Commager, Theodore Parker 

So Fervently Do We Believe 

The cries of true believers are all around the history of schooling, thick as gulls at a 
garbage dump. 

School principal Debbie Reeves of the upscale Barnwell Elementary School in an Atlanta 
suburb was quoted recently by the USA Today newspaper as the author of this amazing 
testimonial of true belief, "I'm not sure you ever get to the point you have enough 
technology. We just believe so fervently in it." 

It's that panting excitement you want to keep an eye out for, that exaggerated belief in 
human perfectibility that Tocqueville noticed in Americans 170 years ago. The same 
newspaper article wanders through the San Juan Elementary School in the very heart of 
Silicon Valley. There, obsolete computers sit idle in neat rows at the back of a spacious 
media center where years ago a highly touted "open classroom" with a sunken common 
area drew similar enthusiasm. The school lacks resources for the frequent updates needed 
to boast state-of-the-art equipment. A district employee said: "One dying technology on 
top of a former dying technology, sort of like layers of an archaeological dig." 

America has always been a land congenial to Utopian thought. The Mayflower Compact 
is a testimonial to this. Although its signers were trapped in history, they were ahistorical, 
too, capable of acts and conceptions beyond the imagination of their parents. The very 
thinness of constituted authority, the high percentage of males as colonists — homeless, 
orphaned, discarded, marginally attached, uprooted males — encouraged dreams of a 

better time to come. Here was soil for a better world where kindly strangers take charge 
of children, loving and rearing them more skillfully than their ignorant parents had ever 

Religion flourished in the same medium, too, particularly the Independent and Dissenting 
religious traditions of England. The extreme rationalism of the Socinian heresy and 
deism, twin roots of America's passionate romance with science and technology to come, 
flourished too. Most American sects were built on a Christian base, but the absence of 
effective state or church monopoly authority in early America allowed 250 years of 
exploration into a transcendental dimension no other Western nation ever experienced in 
modern history, leaving a wake of sects and private pilgrimages which made America the 
heir of ancient Israel — a place where everyone, even free thinkers, actively trusted in a 
god of some sort. 

Without Pope or Patriarch, without an Archbishop of Canterbury, the episcopal principle 
behind state and corporate churches lacked teeth, allowing people here to find their own 
way in the region of soul and spirit. This turned out to be fortunate, a precondition for our 
laboratory policy of national utopianism which required that every sort of visionary be 
given scope to make a case. It was a matter of degree, of course. Most Americans, most 
of the time, were much like people back in England, Scotland, Scandinavia, Germany, 
and Ireland, from which domains they had originally derived. After all, the Revolution 
itself was prosecuted by less than a quarter of our population. But enough of the other 
sort existed as social yeast that nobody could long escape some plan, scheme, 
exhortation, or tract designed to lead the faithful into one or another Promised Land. For 
the most part, Old Testament principles reigned, not New, and the Prophets had a good 
part of the national ear. 

From 1830 to 1900, over one thousand Utopian colonies flourished around the country, 
colonies which mixed the races, like Fanny Wright's Neshoba in Tennessee, colonies 
built around intensive schooling like New Harmony in Indiana, colonies which 
encouraged free love and commonly shared sexual partners as did the Perfectionists at 
Oneida in upstate New York. In the wonderful tapestry of American Utopian thought and 
practice, one unifying thread stands out clearly. Long before the notion of forced 
schooling became household reality, Utopian architects universally recognized that 
schooling was the key to breaking with the past. The young had to be isolated, and drilled 
in the correct way of looking at things or all would fall apart when they grew up. Only 
the tiniest number of these intentional communities ever did solve that problem, and so 
almost all vanished after a brief moment. But the idea itself lingered on. 

In this chapter I want to push a bit into the lure of Utopia, because this strain in human 
nature crisscrosses the growth curve of compulsion schooling at many junctures. Think of 
it as a search for the formula to change human nature in order to build paradise on earth. 
Such an idea is in flagrant opposition to the dominant religion of the Western world, 
whose theology teaches that human nature is permanently flawed, that all human 
salvation must be individually undertaken. 

Even if you aren't used to considering school this way, it isn't hard to see that a 
curriculum to reach the first end would have to be different from that necessary to reach 
the second, and the purpose of the educator is all important. It is simply impossible to 
evaluate what you see in a school without knowing its purpose, but if local administrators 
have no real idea why they do what they do — why they administer standardized tests, for 
instance, then any statement of purpose made by the local school can only confuse the 
investigator. To pursue the elusive purpose or purposes of American schooling as they 
were conceived about a century ago requires that we wander afield from the classroom 
into some flower beds of Utopian aspiration which reared their head in an earlier 

The Necessity Of Detachment 

Hertzler's History of Utopian Thought traces the influence of Francis Bacon's New 
Atlantis, a book you need to know something about if you are ever to adequately 
understand the roots of modern schooling. Hertzler makes a good case from the testimony 
of its founders that the Royal Society itself arose from the book's prophetic scheme of 
"Salomon's House," a world university assembling the best of universal mankind under 
its protection. One of its functions: to oversee management of everything. 

New Atlantis had immense influence in England, Germany, Italy, and France. In France it 
was considered the principal inspiration of the Encyclopedia whose connection to the 
American Revolution is a close one. That story has been told too many times to bear 
repeating here. Suffice it to say that the very same triangle-encased eye that appears on 
the back of the American dollar appears as the center of Solomon's Temple in early 
eighteenth-century French artistic representations. 

One consistent requirement of Utopian procedure is the detachment of its subjects from 
ordinary human affairs. Acting with detached intelligence is what Utopians are all about, 
but a biological puzzle intrudes: detaching intelligence from emotional life isn't actually 
possible. The feat has never been performed, although imaginative writers are endlessly 
intrigued by the challenge it presents. Sherlock Holmes or Mr. Spock of Star Trek fame 
come to mind. 

Utopian thinking is intolerant of variety or competition, so the tendency of modern 
Utopians to enlarge their canvas to include the whole planet through multinational 
organizations becomes disturbing. Utopians regard national sovereignty as irrational and 
democracy as a disease unjustified by biological reality. We need one world, they say, 
and that one world should (reasonably) be under direction of the best Utopians. 
Democracy degrades the hierarchy necessary to operate a rational polity. A feature of 
nearly all Utopias has been addiction to elaborate social machinery like schooling and to 
what we can call marvelous machinery. Excessive human affection between parents, 
children, husbands, wives, et al, is suppressed to allow enthusiasm for machine magic to 
stand out in bold relief. 

It is useful to remember that Britain's Royal Society was founded not in the pursuit of pure knowledge and not by university dons but by 
practical businessmen and noblemen concerned with increased profits and lower wages. 

Enlarging The Nervous System 

There is a legend that in lost Atlantis once stood a great university in the form of an 
immense flat-topped pyramid from which star observations were made. In this university, 
most of the arts and sciences of the present world were contained. Putting aside that 
pleasant fancy which we can find clearly reflected on the obverse of our American Great 
Seal, almost any early Utopia holds a profusion of inside information about things to 
come. In 1641 Bishop John Wilkins, a founder of the Royal Society, wrote his own 
Utopia, Mercury: or the Secret and Swift Messenger. Every single invention Wilkins 
imagined has come about: "a flying chariot," "a trunk or hollow pipe that shall preserve 
the voice entirely," a code for communicating by means of noise-makers, etc. Giphantia, 
by de la Roche, unmistakably envisions the telephone, the radio, television, and 
dehydrated foods and drinks. Even the mechanisms suggested to make these things work 
are very like the actual ones eventually employed. 

Marshall McLuhan once called on us to notice that all machines are merely extensions of 
the human nervous system, artifices which improve on natural apparatus, each a 
utopianization of some physical function. Once you understand the trick, Utopian 
prophecy isn't so impressive. Equally important, says McLuhan, the use of machinery 
causes its natural flesh and blood counterpart to atrophy, hence the lifeless quality of the 
Utopias. Machines dehumanize, according to McLuhan, wherever they are used and 
however sensible their use appears. In a correctly conceived demonology, the Devil 
would be perceived as a machine, I think. Yet the powerful, pervasive influence of 
Utopian reform thinking on the design of modern states has brought Utopian 
mechanization of all human functions into the councils of statecraft and into the 
curriculum of state schooling. 

An important part of the virulent, sustained attack launched against family life in the 
United States, starting about 150 years ago, arose from the impulse to escape fleshly 
reality. Interestingly enough, the overwhelming number of prominent social reformers 
since Plato have been childless, usually childless men, in a dramatic illustration of 
escape-discipline employed in a living tableau. 

Producing Artificial Wants 

Beginning about 1840, a group calling itself the Massachusetts School Committee held a 
series of secret discussions involving many segments of New England political and 
business leadership. 1 Stimulus for these discussions, often led by the politician Horace 
Mann, was the deterioration of family life that the decline of agriculture was leaving in its 
wake. 2 

A peculiar sort of dependency and weakness caused by mass urbanization was 
acknowledged by all with alarm. The once idyllic American family situation was giving 

way to widespread industrial serfdom. Novel forms of degradation and vice were 

And yet at the same time, a great opportunity was presented. Plato, Augustine, Erasmus, 
Luther, Calvin, Hobbes, Rousseau, and a host of other insightful thinkers, sometimes 
referred to at the Boston Athenaeum as "The Order of the Quest," all taught that without 
compulsory universal schooling the idiosyncratic family would never surrender its central 
hold on society to allow Utopia to become reality. Family had to be discouraged from its 
function as a sentimental haven, pressed into the service of loftier ideals — those of the 
perfected State. 

Mann saw that society's "guards and securities" had to increase because an unsuspected 
pathological phenomenon was following the introduction of mass production into life. It 
was producing "artificial wants." It was multiplying the temptation to accumulate things. 
But the barbarous life of the machine laborer made family ideals a hollow mockery. 
Morality could no longer be taught by such families. Crime and vice were certain to 
explode unless children could be pried away from their degraded custodians and civilized 
according to formulas laid down by the best minds. 

Barnas Sears, Mann's Calvinist colleague, saw the rapid growth of commercial mass 
entertainment catering to dense urban settlements as "a current of sensuality sweeping 
everything before it." Former bucolics, who once looked to nature for entertainment, 
were now pawns in the hands of worldly wisemen vending commercial amusement. 
Urban confinement robbed men and women of their ability to find satisfaction outside the 
titillation of mechanical excitation. Whoever provided excitement became the master. 

Mann's other colleague, George Boutwell, who would inherit the leadership of New 
England education from Sears, argued that a course must be selected from which there 
could be no turning back. Urbanization spelled the collapse of worker families; there was 
no remedy for it. Fathers were grossly diverted by nonagricultural labor from training 
their own children. Claims of a right to society and fashion led to neglect by mothers, too. 
"As in some languages there is no word which expresses the true idea of home," said 
Boutwell, "so in our manufacturing towns there are many persons who know nothing of 
its reality." 

Mann proclaimed the State must assert itself as primary parent of children. If an infant's 
natural parents were removed — or if parental ability failed (as was increasingly 
certain) — it was the duty of government to step in and fill the parent's place. Mann noted 
that Massachusetts had a long tradition of being "parental in government." His friend 
Sears described the State as "a nourishing mother, as wise as she is beneficent. Yet, 
should difficulties arise, the State might become stern — as befits a ruling patriarch." 
(emphasis added) 

Much light on these developments is shed by Michael Katz's The Irony of Early School Reform and by 

Joel Spring's historical writings. Both writers are recommended for a dense mine of information; both strike a good balance between the 
perspective supplied by their personal philosophies and reportage without allegiance to any particular dogma. 

"The decline of American agriculture was part of a movement to replicate the centralized pattern found 

in Britain, which had deliberately destroyed its own small farm holdings by 1800. Agriculture had been conducted on a capitalist basis in 
Britain since the notorious enclosure movement prompted by the growth of farming. In its first stage, peasants were displaced to make room for 
large-scale pasture farming. The second displacement transformed the small farmer into the "farm hand" or the factory worker. 

Capitalist farming was established in Britain side by side with a growing manufacturing industry which made it possible to rely on the import 
of foodstuffs from abroad. Freely imported food meant cheap food. Cheap food meant cheap labor. The development of factory farming in 
America (and Australia) provided an outlet for the investment of surplus capital at good rates of interest; hence the decline of small farming in 
America was hastened considerably by direct inducements from its former motherland. Although as late as 1934, 33 percent of American 
employment was still in agriculture (versus 7 percent in Great Britain), the curriculum of small farm, which encouraged resourcefulness, 
independence, and self-reliance, was fast giving way to the curriculum of government education which called for quite a different character. 

The Parens Patriae Powers 

The 1852 compulsory schooling legislation of Massachusetts represents a fundamental 
change in the jurisprudence of parental authority, as had the adoption act passed by the 
nearly identically constituted legislature just four years prior, the first formal adoption 
legislation anywhere on earth since the days of the Roman Empire. Acts so radical could 
not have passed silently into practice if fundamental changes in the status of husbands 
and wives, parents and children, had not already gravely damaged the prestige of the 
family unit. 

There are clear signs as far back as 1796 that elements in the new American state 
intended to interpose themselves in corners of the family where no European state had 
ever gone before. In that year, the Connecticut Superior Court, representing the purest 
Puritan lineage of original New England, introduced "judicial discretion" into the 
common law of child custody and a new conception of youthful welfare hardly seen 
before outside the pages of philosophy books — the notion that each child had an 
individual destiny, a private "welfare" independent of what happened to the rest of its 

A concept called "psychological parenthood" began to take shape, a radical notion 
without legal precedent that would be used down the road to support drastic forcible 
intervention into family life. It became one of the basic justifications offered during the 
period of mass immigration for a compulsion law intended to put children under the thrall 
of so-called scientific parenting in schools. 

Judicial discretion in custody cases was the first salvo in a barrage of poorly understood 
court rulings in which American courts made law rather than interpreted it. These rulings 
were formalized later by elected legislatures. Rubber-stamping the fait accompli, they 
marked a restructuring of the framework of the family ordered by a judicial body without 
any public debate or consent. No precedent for such aggressive court action existed in 
English law. The concept lived only in the dreams and speculations of Utopian writers 
and philosophers. 

The 1840 case Mercein v. People produced a stunning opinion by Connecticut's Justice 
Paige — a strain of radical strong-state faith straight out of Hegel: 

The moment a child is born it owes allegiance to the government of the country of its 
birth, and is entitled to the protection of the government. 

As the opinion unrolled, Paige further explained "with the coming of civil society the 
father's sovereign power passed to the chief or government of the nation." A part of this 
power was then transferred back to both parents for the convenience of the State. But 
their guardianship was limited to the legal duty of maintenance and education, while 
absolute sovereignty remained with the State. 

Not since John Cotton, teacher of the Boston church in the early Puritan period, had such 
a position been publicly asserted. Cotton, in renouncing Roger Williams, insisted on the 
absolute authority of magistrates in civil and religious affairs, the quintessential Anglican 
position. In later life he even came to uphold the power of judges over conscience and 
was willing to grant powers of life and death to authorities to bring about conformity. 
Thus did the Puritan rebellion rot from within. 

A few years after the Paige ruling, American courts received a second radical 
authorization to intervene in family matters, "the best interest of the child" test. In 1847, 
Judge Oakley of New York City Superior Court staked a claim that such power "is not 
unregulated or arbitrary" but is "governed, as far as the case will admit, by fixed rules and 
principles." When such fixed rules and principles were not to be found, it caused no 
problem either, for it was only another matter subject to court discretion. 

In the fifty- four- year period separating the Massachusetts compulsion school 
law/adoption law and the founding of Children's Court at the beginning of the twentieth 
century in Chicago, the meaning of these decisions became increasingly clear. With 
opposition from the family-centered societies of the tidewater and hill-country South 
diminished by civil war, the American state assumed the parens patriae powers of old- 
time absolute kings, the notion of the political state as the primary father. And there were 
signs it intended to use those powers to synthesize the type of scientific family it wanted, 
for the society it wanted. To usher in the future it wanted. 

The Plan Advances 

In the space of one lifetime, the United States was converted from a place where human 
variety had ample room to display itself into a laboratory of virtual orthodoxy — a process 
concealed by dogged survival of the mythology of independence. The cowboy and 
frontiersman continued as film icons until 1970, living ghosts of some collective national 
inspiration. But both died, in fact, shortly after Italian immigration began in earnest in the 

The crucial years for the hardening of our national arteries were those between 1 845 and 
1920, the immigration years. Something subtler than Anglo-Saxon revulsion against Celt, 
Latin, and Slav was at work in that period. A Utopian ideal of society as an orderly social 
hive had been transmitting itself continuously through small elite bodies of men since the 
time of classical Egypt. New England had been the New World proving ground of this 

idea. Now New England was to take advantage of the chaotic period of heavy 
immigration and the opportunity of mass regimentation afforded by civil war to establish 
this form of total State. 

The plan advanced in barely perceptible stages, each new increment making it more 
difficult for individual families to follow an independent plan. Ultimately, in the second 
and third decades of the twentieth century — decades which gave us Adolf Hitler, 
Prohibition, mass IQ-testing of an entire student population, junior high schools, raccoon 
coats, Rudy Vallee, and worldwide depression — room to breathe in a personal, peculiar, 
idiosyncratic way just ran out. It was the end of Thomas Jefferson's dream, the final 
betrayal of democratic promise in the last new world on the planet. 

When you consider how bizarre and implausible much of the conformist machinery put 
in place during this critical period really was — and especially how long and successfully 
all sorts of people resisted this kind of encroachment on fundamental liberty — it becomes 
clear that to understand things like universal medical policing, income tax, national 
banking systems, secret police, standing armies and navies which demand constant 
tribute, universal military training, standardized national examinations, the cult of 
intelligence tests, compulsory education, the organization of colleges around a scheme 
called "research" (which makes teaching an unpleasant inconvenience), the secularization 
of religion, the rise of specialist professional monopolies sanctioned by their state, and all 
the rest of the "progress" made in these seventy- five years, you have to find reasons to 
explain them. Why then? Who made it happen? What was the point? 

Children's Court 

The very clear connection between all the zones of the emerging American hive-world 
are a sign of some organized intelligence at work, with some organized end in mind. 1 For 
those who can read the language of conventional symbolism, the philosophical way being 
followed represents the extraordinary vision of the learned company of deists who 
created the country coupled to the Puritan vision as it had been derived from Anglo- 
Normans — descendants of the Scandinavian/French conquerors of England — those 
families who became the principal settlers of New England. It is careless to say that bad 
luck, accident, or blind historical forces caused the trap to spring shut on us. 

Of the various ways an ancient ideal of perfected society can be given life through 
institutions under control of the State, one is so startling and has been realized so closely 
it bears some scrutiny. As the hive-world was being hammered out in the United States 
after 1850, the notion of unique, irreplaceable natural families came increasingly to be 
seen as the major roadblock in the path of social progress toward the extraordinary vision 
of a machine-driven, Utopian paradise. To realize such a theory in practice, families must 
be on trial with each other constantly and with their neighbors, just as a politician is ever 
on trial. Families should be conditional entities, not categories absolute. This had been 
the operational standard of the Puritan settlement in America, though hardly of any other 
region (unless the Quaker/Pietist sections of the middle colonies who "shunned" outcasts, 
even if family). If, after testing, an original mother and father did not suit, then children 

should be removed and transferred to parent-surrogates. This is the basis of foster care 
and adoption. 

By 1900, through the agency of the radical new Denver/Chicago "Children's Court," one 
important machine to perform this transfer function was in place. Children need not be 
wasted building blocks for the State's purpose just because their natural parents had been. 
The lesson the new machine-economy was teaching reinforced the spiritual vision of 
Utopians: perfect interchangeability, perfect subordination. People could learn to emulate 
machines; and by progressive approximations they might ultimately become as reliable as 
machinery. In a similar vein, men and women were encouraged through easy divorce 
laws and ever-increasing accessibility to sexually explicit imagery, to delay choosing 
marriage mates. With the mystery removed, the pressure to mate went with it, it was 
supposed. The new system encouraged "trials," trying on different people until a good fit 
was found. 

The paradox that a teenage female in the year 2000 requires parental permission to be given Tylenol or have ears pierced but not, in some 
states, to have an abortion suggests the magnitude of the control imposed and atleast a portion of its purpose. 

Mr. Young's Head Was Pounded To Jelly 

The most surprising thing about the start-up of mass public education in mid-nineteenth- 
century Massachusetts is how overwhelmingly parents of all classes soon complained 
about it. Reports of school committees around 1850 show the greatest single theme of 
discussion was conflict between the State and the general public on this matter. 
Resistance was led by the old yeoman class — those families accustomed to taking care of 
themselves and providing meaning for their own lives. The little town of Barnstable on 
Cape Cod is exemplary. Its school committee lamented, according to Katz's Irony of 
Early School Reform, that "the great defect of our day is the absence of governing or 
controlling power on the part of parents and the consequent insubordination of children. 
Our schools are rendered inefficient by the apathy of parents." 

Years ago I was in possession of an old newspaper account which related the use of 
militia to march recalcitrant children to school there, but I've been unable to locate it 
again. Nevertheless, even a cursory look for evidence of state violence in bending public 
will to accept compulsion schooling will be rewarded: Bruce Curtis' book Building the 
Education State 1836-1871 documents the intense aversion to schooling which arose 
across North America, in Anglican Canada where leadership was uniform, as well as in 
the United States where leadership was more divided. Many schools were burned to the 
ground and teachers run out of town by angry mobs. When students were kept after 
school, parents often broke into school to free them. 

At Saltfleet Township in 1859 a teacher was locked in the schoolhouse by students who 
"threw mud and mire into his face and over his clothes," according to school records — 
while parents egged them on. At Brantford, Ontario, in 1 863 the teacher William Young 
was assaulted (according to his replacement) to the point that "Mr. Young's head, face 
and body was, if I understand rightly, pounded literally to jelly." Curtis argues that parent 

resistance was motivated by a radical transformation in the intentions of schools — a 
change from teaching basic literacy to molding social identity. 

The first effective American compulsory schooling in the modern era was a reform 
school movement which Know-Nothing legislatures of the 1850s put into the hopper 
along with their radical new adoption law. Objects of reformation were announced as 
follows: Respect for authority; Self-control; Self-discipline. The properly reformed boy 
"acquires a fixed character," one that can be planned for in advance by authority in 
keeping with the efficiency needs of business and industry. Reform meant the total 
transformation of character, behavior modification, a complete makeover. By 1857, a few 
years after stranger-adoption was kicked off as a new policy of the State, Boutwell could 
consider foster parenting (the old designation for adoption) "one of the major strategies 
for the reform of youth."' The first step in the strategy of reform was for the State to 
become de facto parent of the child. That, according to another Massachusetts educator, 
Emory Washburn, "presents the State in her true relation of a parent seeking out her 
erring children." 

The 1850s in Massachusetts marked the beginning of a new epoch in schooling. 
Washburn triumphantly crowed that these years produced the first occasion in history 
"whereby a state in the character of a common parent has undertaken the high and sacred 
duty of rescuing and restoring her lost children. the influence of the school." John 
Philbrick, Boston school superintendent, said of his growing empire in 1863, "Here is 
real home!" (emphasis added) All schooling, including the reform variety, was to be in 
imitation of the best "family system of organization"; this squared with the prevalent 
belief that delinquency was not caused by external conditions — thus letting industrialists 
and slumlords off the hook — but by deficient homes. 

Between 1 840 and 1 860, male schoolteachers were cleansed from the Massachusetts 
system and replaced by women. A variety of methods was used, including the novel one 
of paying women slightly more than men in order to bring shame into play in chasing men 
out of the business. Again, the move was part of a well-conceived strategy: "Experience 
teaches that these boys, many of whom never had a mother's affection... need the 
softening and refining influence which woman alone can give, and we have, wherever 
practicable, substituted female officers and teachers for those of the other sex." 

A state report noted the frequency with which parents coming to retrieve their own 
children from reform school were met by news their children had been given away to 
others, through the state's parens patriae power. "We have felt it to be our duty generally 
to decline giving them up to their parents and have placed as many of them as we could 
with farmers and mechanics," reads a portion of Public Document 20 for the state of 
Massachusetts, written in 1864. (emphasis added) To recreate the feelings of parents on 
hearing this news is beyond my power. 

The reader will recall such a strategy was considered for Hester Prynne's child, Pearl, in Hawthorne's 

Scarlet Letter. That Hawthorne, writing at mid-century, chose this as a hinge for his characterization of the fallen woman Hester is surely no 

William Rainey Harper 

Three decades later at the University of Chicago, William Rainey Harper, former 
Chautauqua wizard, began a revolution that would change the face of American 
university education. Harper imported the university system of Germany into the United 
States, lock, stock, and barrel. Undergraduate teaching was to be relegated to a form of 
Chautauqua show business, while research at the graduate level was where prestige 
academic careers would locate, just as Bacon's New Atlantis had predicted. Harper, 
following the blueprint suggested by Andrew Carnegie in his powerful "Gospel of 
Wealth" essays, said the United States should work toward a unified scheme of 
education, organized vertically from kindergarten through university, horizontally 
through voluntary association of colleges, all supplemented by university extension 
courses available to everyone. Harper wrote in 1902: 

The field of education is at the present time in an extremely disorganized condition. But 
the forces are already in existence [to change that]. Order will be secured and a great new 
system established, which may be designated "The American System." The important 
steps to be taken in working out such a system are coordination, specialization and 

Harper and his backers regarded education purely as a commodity. Thorstein Veblen 
describes Harper's revolution this way: 

The underlying business-like presumption accordingly appears to be that learning is a 
merchantable commodity, to be produced on a piece-rate plan, rated, bought and sold by 
standard units, measured, counted, and reduced to staple equivalence by impersonal, 
mechanical tests. 

Harper believed modern business enterprise represented the highest and best type of 
human productive activity. He believed business had discovered two cosmic principles — 
techniques implicit in the larger concept of survival of the fittest: consolidation and 
specialization. Whatever will not consolidate and specialize must perish, he believed. The 
conversion of American universities into a system characterized by institutional giantism 
and specialization was not finished in Harper's lifetime, but went far enough that in the 
judgment of the New York Sun, "Hell is open and the lid is off!" 

Harper's other main contribution to the corporatization of U.S. scholarly life was just as 
profound. He destroyed the lonely vocation of great teacher by trivializing its importance. 
Research alone, objectively weighed and measured, subject to the surveillance of one's 
colleagues would, after Harper, be the sine qua non of university teaching: 

Promotion of younger men in the departments will depend more largely upon the results 
of their work as investigators than upon the efficiency of their teaching.... In other words, 

it is proposed to make the work of investigation primary, the work of giving instruction 

Harper was the middleman who introduced the organization and ethics of business into 
the world of pedagogy. Harper-inspired university experience is now virtually the only 
ritual of passage into prosperous adulthood in the United States, just as the Carnegie 
Foundation and Rockefeller's General Education Board willed it to be. Few young men 
or women are strong enough to survive this passage with their humanity wholly intact. 

Death Dies 

In 1932, John Dewey, now elevated to a position as America's most prominent 
educational voice, heralded the end of what he called "the old individualism." Time had 
come, he said, for a new individualism that recognized the radical transformation that had 
come in American society: 

Associations, tightly or loosely organized, more and more define opportunities, choices, 
and actions of individuals. 

Death, a staple topic of children's books for hundreds of years because it poses a central 
puzzle for all children, nearly vanished as theme or event after 1916. Children were 
instructed indirectly that there was no grief; indeed, an examination of hundreds of those 
books from the transitional period between 1900 and 1916 reveals that Evil no longer had 
any reality either. There was no Evil, only bad attitudes, and those were correctable by 
training and adjustment therapies. 

To see how goals of Utopian procedure are realized, consider further the sudden change 
that fell upon the children's book industry between 1890 and 1920. Without explanations 
or warning, timeless subjects disappeared from the texts, to be replaced by what is best 
regarded as a political agenda. The suddenness of this change was signaled by many 
other indications of powerful social forces at work: the phenomenal overnight growth of 
"research" hospitals where professional hospital-ity replaced home-style sick care, was 
one of these, the equally phenomenal sudden enforcement of compulsory schooling 

Through children's books, older generations announce their values, declare their 
aspirations, and make bids to socialize the young. Any sudden change in the content of 
such books must necessarily reflect changes in publisher consciousness, not in the 
general class of book-buyer whose market preferences evolve slowly. What is prized as 
human achievement can usually be measured by examining children's texts; what is 
valued in human relationships can be, too. 

In the thirty- year period from 1890 to 1920, the children's book industry became a 
creator, not a reflector, of values. In any freely competitive situation this could hardly 
have happened because the newly aggressive texts would have risked missing the market. 
The only way such a gamble could be safe was for total change to occur simultaneously 

among publishers. The insularity and collegiality of children's book publishing allowed it 
this luxury. 

One aspect of children's publishing that has remained consistent all the way back to 1721 
is the zone where it is produced; today, as nearly three hundred years ago, the Northeast 
is where children's literature happens — inside the cities of Boston, New York, and 
Philadelphia. No industry shift has ever disturbed this cozy arrangement: over time, 
concentration became even more intense. Philadelphia's role diminished in the twentieth 
century, leaving Boston and New York co-regents at its end. In 1975, 87 percent of all 
titles available came from those two former colonial capitals, while in 1 876 it had been 
"only" 84 percent, a marvelous durability. For the past one hundred years these two cities 
have decided what books American children will read. 

Until 1875, about 75 percent of all children's titles dealt with some aspect of the future — 
usually salvation. Over the next forty years this idea vanished completely. As Comte and 
Saint-Simon had strongly advised, the child was to be relieved of concerning itself with 
the future. The future would be arranged /or children and for householders by a new 
expert class, and the need to do God's will was now considered dangerous superstition by 
men in charge. 

Another dramatic switch in children's books had to do with a character's dependence on 
community to solve problems and to give life meaning. Across the eighteenth and 
nineteenth centuries, strength, afforded by stable community life, was an important part 
of narrative action, but toward the end of the nineteenth century a totally new note of 
"self was sounded. Now protagonists became more competent, more in control; their 
need for family and communal affirmation disappeared, to be replaced by a new 
imperative — the quest for certification by legitimate authority. Needs now suddenly 
dominant among literary characters were so-called "expressive needs": exploring, 
playing, joy, loving, self-actualizing, intriguing against one's own parents. By the early 
twentieth century, a solid majority of all children's books focus on the individual child 
free from the web of family and community. 

This model had been established by the Horatio Alger books in the second half of the 
nineteenth century; now with some savage modern flourishes (like encouraging active 
indifference to family) it came to totally dominate the children's book business. Children 
were invited to divide their interests from those of their families and to concentrate on 
private concerns. A few alarmed critical voices saw this as a strategy of "divide and 
conquer," a means to separate children from family so they could be more easily molded 
into new social designs. In the words of Mary Lystad, the biographer of children's 
literary history from whom I have drawn heavily in this analysis: 

As the twentieth century continued, book characters were provided more and more 
opportunities to pay attention to themselves. More and more characters were allowed to 
look inward to their own needs and desires. 

This change of emphasis "was managed at the expense of others in the family group," she 

From 1796 to 1855, 18 percent of all children's books were constructed around the idea 
of conformity to some adult norm; but by 1 896 emphasis on conformity had tripled. This 
took place in the thirty years following the Civil War. Did the elimination of the Southern 
pole of our national dialectic have anything to do with that? Yes, everything, I think. 
With tension between Northern and Southern ways of life and politics resolved 
permanently in favor of the North, the way was clear for triumphant American orthodoxy 
to seize the entire field. The huge increase in conformist themes rose even more as we 
entered the twentieth century and has remained at an elevated level through the decades 

What is most deceptive in trying to fix this characteristic conformity is the introduction of 
an apparently libertarian note of free choice into the narrative equation. Modern 
characters are encouraged to self-start and to proceed on what appears to be an 
independent course. But upon closer inspection, that course is always toward a centrally 
prescribed social goal, never toward personal solutions to life's dilemmas. Freedom of 
choice in this formulation arises from the feeling that you have freedom, not from its 
actual possession. Thus social planners get the best of both worlds: a large measure of 
control without any kicking at the traces. In modern business circles, such a style of 
oversight is known as management by objectives. 

Another aspect of this particular brand of regulation is that book characters are shown 
being innovative, but innovative only in the way they arrive at the same destination; their 
emotional needs for self-expression are met harmlessly in this way without any risk to 
social machinery. Much evidence of centralized tinkering within the factory of children's 
literature exists, pointing in the direction of what might be called Unit-Man — people as 
work units partially broken free of human community who can be moved about efficiently 
in various social experiments. William Rainey Harper, president of the University of 
Chicago, thought of such an end as "laboratory research aimed at designing a rational 

To mention just a few other radical changes in children's book content between 1890 and 
1920: school credentials replace experience as the goal book characters work toward, and 
child labor becomes a label of condemnation in spite of its ancient function as the 
quickest, most reliable way to human independence — the way taken in fact by Carnegie, 
Rockefeller, and many others who were now apparently quite anxious to put a stop to it. 

Children are encouraged not to work at all until their late teen years, sometimes not until 
their thirties. A case for the general superiority of youth working instead of idly sitting 
around in school confinement is often made prior to 1900, but never heard again in 
children's books after 1916. The universality of this silence is the notable thing, 
deafening in fact. 

Protagonists' goals in the new literature, while apparently individualistic, are almost 
always found being pursued through social institutions — those ubiquitous "associations" 
of John Dewey — never through family efforts. Families are portrayed as good-natured 
dormitory arrangements or affectionate manager-employee relationships, but emotional 
commitment to family life is noticeably ignored. Significant family undertakings like 
starting a farm or teaching each other how to view life from a multi-age perspective are 
so rare that the few exceptions stand out like monadnocks above a broad, flat plain. 

Three Most Significant Books 

The three most influential books ever published in North America, setting aside the Bible 
and The New England Primer, were all published in the years of the Utopian 
transformation of America which gave us government schooling: Uncle Tom 's Cabin, or 
Life Among the Lowly (1852), a book which testifies to the ancient obsession of English- 
speaking elites with the salvation of the under- classes; Ben-Hur (1880), a book 
illustrating the Christian belief that Jews can eventually be made to see the light of reason 
and converted; and the last a pure Utopia, Looking Backwards (1888), still in print more 
than one hundred years later, translated into thirty languages.' 

In 1944, three American intellectuals, Charles Beard, John Dewey, and Edward Weeks, 
interviewed separately, proclaimed Edward Bellamy's Looking Backwards second only 
to Marx's Das Kapital as the most influential book of modern times. Within three years 
of its publication, 165 "Bellamy Clubs" sprouted up. In the next twelve years, no less 
than forty-six other Utopian novels became best sellers. 

Was it Civil War, chaos, decades of mass immigration, or a frightening series of bloody 
national labor strikes shattering our class-free myths that made the public ready for 
stories of a better tomorrow? Whatever the cause or causes, the flowering communities of 
actual American utopianism took on real shape in the nineteenth century, from famous 
ones like Owenite communities and Fourienan phalansteres or Perfectionist sexual stews 
like Oneida, right down to little-known oddities, like Mordecai Noah's "Ararat," city of 
refuge for Jews. First they happened, then they were echoed in print, not the reverse. 
Nothing in the human social record matches the outburst of purely American longing for 
something better in community life, the account recorded in deeds and words in the first 
full century of our nationhood. 

What Bellamy's book uncovered in middle-class/upper-middle-class consciousness was 
revealing — the society he describes is a totally organized society, all means of production 
are in the hands of State parent-surrogates. The conditions of well-behaved, middle-class 
childhood are recreated on a corporate scale in these early Utopias. Society in Bellamy's 
ideal future has eliminated the reality of democracy, citizens are answerable to 
commands of industrial officers, little room remains for self-initiative. The State 
regulates all public activities, owns the means of production, individuals are transformed 
into a unit directed by bureaucrats. 

Erich Fromm thought Bellamy had missed the strong similarities between corporate 
socialism and corporate capitalism — that both converge eventually in goals of 
industrialization, that both are societies run by a managerial class and professional 
politicians, both thoroughly materialistic in outlook; both organize human masses into a 
centralized system; into large, hierarchically arranged employment-pods, into mass 
political parties. In both, alienated corporate man — well-fed, well-clothed, well- 
entertained — is governed by bureaucrats. Governing has no goals beyond this. At the end 
of history men are not slaves, but robots. This is the vision of Utopia seen complete. 

Economist Donald Hodges' book, America's New Economic Order, traces the intellectual history of 
professionalism in management (John Kenneth Galbraith's corporate "Technostructure" in The New Industrial State) to Looking Backwards 
which described an emerging public economy similar to what actually happened. Hodges shows how various theorists of the Utopian transition 
like John Dewey and Frederick Taylor shaped the regime of professional managers we live under. 

No Place To Hide 

How could the amazing lives of George Washington, Andrew Jackson, the John D. 
Rockefellers, Margaret Fuller, Amy Lowell, my own immigrant McManuses, Gattos, 
Zimmers, Hoffmans, and D'Agostinos, have added up to this lifeless Utopia? Like a black 
hole it grew, although no human being flourishes under such a regime or rests easily 
inside the logic of hundreds of systems intermeshing into one master system, all 
demanding obedience from their human parts. Here is a materialistic inverse of Ezekiel's 
spiritual vision of wheels within wheels. 

In a New York Times description of the first "Edison Project" school in Sherman, Texas — 
a system of proprietary schools supplying a home computer for every child, e-mail, 
longer school days and years, and "the most high-tech school in America" (as Benno 
Schmidt, former president of Yale, put it) — the local superintendent gloated over what he 
must have regarded as the final solution to the student-control issue: " Can you imagine 
what this means if you're home sick? The teacher can just put stuff in the student's e- 
mail... .There's no place to hide anymore!" 

The Irony Of The Safety Lamp 

Have I made too much of this? What on earth is wrong with wanting to help people, even 
in institutionalizing the helping urge so it becomes more reliable? Just this: the helping 
equation is not as simple as Utopians imagined. I remember the shock I felt on many 
occasions when my well-meant intercession into obvious problems a kid was having were 
met with some variation of the angry cry, "Leave me alone!" as if my assistance actually 
would have made things worse. It was baffling how often that happened, and I was a 
well-liked teacher. Is it possible there are hills that nature or God demands we climb 
alone or become forever the less for having been carried over them? 

The plans of true believers for our lives may well be better than our own when judged 
against some abstract official standard, but to deny people their personal struggles is to 
render existence absurd. What are we left with then besides some unspeakable 

Chautauqua, a liar's world which promises that if only the rules are followed, good lives 
will ensue? Inconvenience, discomfort, hurt, defeat, and tragedy are inevitable 
accompaniments of our time on earth; we learn to manage trouble by managing trouble, 
not by turning our burden over to another. Think of the mutilated spirit that victims of 
overprotective parents carry long after they are grown and gone from home. What should 
make you suspicious about School is its relentless compulsion. Why should this rich, 
brawling, utterly successful nation ever have needed to resort to compulsion to push 
people into school classes — unless advocates of forced schooling were driven by peculiar 
philosophical beliefs not commonly shared? 

Another thing should concern you, that the consequences of orthodox mass schooling 
have never been fully thought through. To show you what I mean, consider the example 
of Sir Humphrey Davy, inventor of the coalmine "safety" lamp after an 1812 explosion in 
which ninety-two boys and men were killed. Davy's assignment to the honor roll of 
saintliness came from his assertion that the sole object of his concern was to "serve the 
cause of humanity" — a declaration made credible by his refusal to patent the device. 

Let nobody deny that the safety lamp decreased the danger of explosion relative to older 
methods of illumination, but the brutal fact is that many more miners died because of 
Davy's invention. It allowed the coal industry to grow rapidly, bringing vastly more men 
into the mines than before, opening deeper tunnels, exposing miners to mortal dangers of 
which fire-damp is only one, dangers for which there is no protection. Davy's "safety" 
lamp brought safety only in the most ironic sense; it was a profit-enhancement lamp most 
of all. Its most prominent effect was to allow the growth of industry, a blessing to some, a 
curse to others, but far from an unambiguous good because it wasted many more lives 
than it saved. 

Serving "the cause of humanity" through forced government schooling may also turn out 
to be a stranger matter than it appears, another Davy lamp in different costume. 

Chapter Seven 

The Prussian Connection 

Prussian Fire-Discipline 

On approaching the enemy, the marching columns of Prussians wheeled in succession to 
the right or left, passed along the front of the enemy until the rear company had wheeled. 
Then the whole together wheeled into line facing the enemy. These movements brought 
the infantry into two long well-closed lines, parade-ground precision obtained thanks to 
remorseless drilling. With this movement was bound up a fire-discipline more 
extraordinary than any perfection of maneuver. "Pelotonfeuer" was opened at 200 paces 
from the enemy and continued up to 30 paces when the line fell on with the bayonet. The 
possibility of this combination of fire and movement was the work of Leopold, who by 
sheer drill made the soldier a machine capable of delivering (with flintlock muzzle- 
loading muskets) five volleys a minute. The special Prussian fire-discipline gave an 
advantage of five shots to two against all opponents. The bayonet attack, if the rolling 
volleys had done their work, was merely "presenting the cheque for payment, " as a 
German writer put it. 
— Encyclopedia Britannica, 1 1th edition, "Prussia" 

The Land of Frankenstein 

The particular Utopia American believers chose to bring to the schoolhouse was Prussian. 
The seed that became American schooling, twentieth-century style, was planted in 1 806 
when Napoleon's amateur soldiers bested the professional soldiers of Prussia at the battle 
of Jena. When your business is renting soldiers and employing diplomatic extortion under 
threat of your soldiery, losing a battle like that is pretty serious. Something had to be 

The most important immediate reaction to Jena was an immortal speech, the "Address to 
the German Nation" by the philosopher Fichte — one of the influential documents of 
modern history leading directly to the first workable compulsion schools in the West. 
Other times, other lands talked about schooling, but all failed to deliver. Simple forced 
training for brief intervals and for narrow purposes was the best that had ever been 
managed. This time would be different. 

In no uncertain terms Fichte told Prussia the party was over. Children would have to be 
disciplined through a new form of universal conditioning. They could no longer be 
trusted to their parents. Look what Napoleon had done by banishing sentiment in the 
interests of nationalism. Through forced schooling, everyone would learn that "work 
makes free," and working for the State, even laying down one's life to its commands, was 
the greatest freedom of all. Here in the genius of semantic redefinition 1 lay the power to 

cloud men's minds, a power later packaged and sold by public relations pioneers Edward 
Bernays and Ivy Lee in the seedtime of American forced schooling. 

Prior to Fichte's challenge any number of compulsion-school proclamations had rolled 
off printing presses here and there, including Martin Luther's plan to tie church and state 
together this way and, of course, the "Old Deluder Satan" law of 1642 in Massachusetts 
and its 1645 extension. The problem was these earlier ventures were virtually 
unenforceable, roundly ignored by those who smelled mischief lurking behind fancy 
promises of free education. People who wanted their kids schooled had them schooled 
even then; people who didn't didn't. That was more or less true for most of us right into 
the twentieth century: as late as 1920, only 32 percent of American kids went past 
elementary school. If that sounds impossible, consider the practice in Switzerland today 
where only 23 percent of the student population goes to high school, though Switzerland 
has the world's highest per capita income in the world. 

Prussia was prepared to use bayonets on its own people as readily as it wielded them 
against others, so it's not all that surprising the human race got its first effective secular 
compulsion schooling out of Prussia in 1819, the same year Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, 
set in the darkness of far-off Germany, was published in England. Schule came after more 
than a decade of deliberations, commissions, testimony, and debate. For a brief, hopeful 
moment, Humboldt's brilliant arguments for a high-level no-holds-barred, free-swinging, 
universal, intellectual course of study for all, full of variety, free debate, rich experience, 
and personalized curricula almost won the day. What a different world we would have 
today if Humboldt had won the Prussian debate, but the forces backing Baron vom Stein 
won instead. And that has made all the difference. 

The Prussian mind, which carried the day, held a clear idea of what centralized schooling 
should deliver: 1) Obedient soldiers to the army; 2 2) Obedient workers for mines, 
factories, and farms; 3) Well-subordinated civil servants, trained in their function; 4) 
Well-subordinated clerks for industry; 5) Citizens who thought alike on most issues; 6) 
National uniformity in thought, word, and deed. 

The area of individual volition for commoners was severely foreclosed by Prussian 
psychological training procedures drawn from the experience of animal husbandry and 
equestrian training, and also taken from past military experience. Much later, in our own 
time, the techniques of these assorted crafts and sullen arts became "discoveries" in the 
pedagogical pseudoscience of psychological behaviorism. 

Prussian schools delivered everything they promised. Every important matter could now 
be confidently worked out in advance by leading families and institutional heads because 
well-schooled masses would concur with a minimum of opposition. This tightly schooled 
consensus in Prussia eventually combined the kaleidoscopic German principalities into a 
united Germany, after a thousand years as a nation in fragments. What a surprise the 
world would soon get from this successful experiment in national centralization! Under 
Prussian state socialism private industry surged, vaulting resource-poor Prussia up among 
world leaders. Military success remained Prussia's touchstone. Even before the school 

law went into full effect as an enhancer of state priorities, the army corps under Blucher 
was the principal reason for Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, its superb discipline allowing 
for a surprisingly successful return to combat after what seemed to be a crushing defeat at 
the Little Corporal's hands just days before. 3 Unschooled, the Prussians were awesome; 
conditioned in the classroom promised to make them even more formidable. 

The immense prestige earned from this triumph reverberated through an America not so 
lucky in its own recent fortunes of war, a country humiliated by a shabby showing against 
the British in the War of 1812. Even thirty years after Waterloo, so highly was Prussia 
regarded in America and Britain, the English-speaking adversaries selected the Prussian 
king to arbitrate our northwest border with Canada. Hence the Pennsylvania town "King 
of Prussia." Thirty-three years after Prussia made state schooling work, we borrowed the 
structure, style, and intention of those Germans for our own first compulsion schools. 

Traditional American school purpose — piety, good manners, basic intellectual tools, self- 
reliance, etc. — was scrapped to make way for something different. Our historical 
destination of personal independence gave way slowly to Prussian-purpose schooling, not 
because the American way lost in any competition of ideas, but because for the new 
commercial and manufacturing hierarchs, such a course made better economic sense. 

This private advance toward nationalized schooling in America was partially organized, 
although little has ever been written about it; Orestes Brownson's journal identifies a 
covert national apparatus (to which Brownson briefly belonged) already in place in the 
decade after the War of 1812, one whose stated purpose was to "Germanize" America, 
beginning in those troubled neighborhoods where the urban poor huddled, and where 
disorganized new immigrants made easy targets, according to Brownson. Enmity on the 
part of old-stock middle-class and working-class populations toward newer immigrants 
gave these unfortunates no appeal against the school sentence to which Massachusetts 
assigned them. They were in for a complete makeover, like it or not. 

Much of the story, as it was being written by 1844, lies just under the surface of Mann's 
florid prose in his Seventh Annual Report to the Boston School Committee. On a visit to 
Prussia the year before, he had been much impressed (so he said) with the ease by which 
Prussian calculations could determine precisely how many thinkers, problem-solvers, and 
working stiffs the State would require over the coming decade, then how it offered the 
precise categories of training required to develop the percentages of human resource 
needed. All this was much fairer to Mann than England's repulsive episcopal system — 
schooling based on social class; Prussia, he thought, was republican in the desirable, 
manly, Roman sense. Massachusetts must take the same direction. 

Machiavelli had clearly identified this as a necessary strategy of state in 1532, and even explored its choreography. 

"For an ironic reflection on the success of Prussian educational ideals, take a look at Martin Van Creveld's 

Fighting Power (Greenwood Press, 1982). Creveld, the world's finest military historian, undertakes to explain why German armies in 19 14 
1918 and 1939-1945, although heavily outnumbered in the major battles of both wars, consistently inflicted 30 percent more casualties than 
they suffered, whether they were winning or losing, on defense or on offense, no matter who they fought. They were better led, we might 
suspect, but the actual training of those field commanders comes as a shock. While American officer selection was right out of Frederick 

Taylor, complete with psychological dossiers and standardized tests, German officer training emphasized individual apprenticeships, week- 
long field evaluations, extended discursive written evaluations by senior officers who personally knew the candidates. The surprise is, while 
German state management was rigid and regulated with its common citizens, it was liberal and adventuresome with its elites. After WWII, and 
particularly after Vietnam, American elite military practice began to follow this German model. Ironically enough, America's elite private 
boarding schools like Groton had followed the Prussian lead from their inception as well as the British models of Eton and Harrow. 

German elite war doctrine cut straight to the heart of the difference between the truly educated and the merely schooled. For the German High 
Command war was seen as an art, a creative activity, grounded in science. War made the highest demands on an officer's entire personality and 
the role of the individual in Germany was decisive. American emphasis, on the other hand, was doctrinal, fixated on cookbook rules. The U.S. 
officer's manual said: "Doctrines of combat operation are neither numerous nor complex. Knowledge of these doctrines provides a firm basis 
for action in a particular situation." This reliance on automatic procedure rather than on creative individual decisions got a lot of Americans 
killed by the book. The irony, of course, was that American, British, and French officers got the same lockstep conditioning in dependence that 
German foot soldiers did. There are some obvious lessons here which can be applied directly to public schooling. 

Napoleon assumed the Prussians were retreating in the direction of the Rhine after a defeat, but in truth they were only executing a feint. The 
French were about to overrun Wellington when Blucher's "Death's Head Hussars," driven beyond human endurance by their officers, reached 
the battlefield at a decisive moment. Not pausing to rest, the Prussians immediately went into battle, taking the French in the rear and right 
wing. Napoleon toppled, and Prussian discipline became the focus of world attention. 

The Long Reach Of The Teutonic Knights 

In 1876, before setting off from America to Germany to study, William H. Welch, an 
ambitious young Bostonian, told his sister: "If by absorbing German lore I can get a little 
start of a few thousand rivals and thereby reduce my competition to a few hundred more 
or less it is a good point to tally." Welch did go off to Germany for the coveted Ph.D., a 
degree which at the time had its actual existence in any practical sense only there, and in 
due course his ambition was satisfied. Welch became first dean of Johns Hopkins 
Medical School and, later, chief advisor to the Rockefeller Foundation on medical 
projects. Welch was one of thousands who found the German Ph.D. a blessing without 
parallel in late-nineteenth-century America. German Ph.D.'s ruled the academic scene by 

Prussia itself was a curious place, not an ordinary country unless you consider ordinary a 
land which by 1776 required women to register each onset of their monthly menses with 
the police. North America had been interested in Prussian developments since long 
before the American Revolution, its social controls being a favorite subject of discussion 
among Ben Franklin's 1 exclusive private discussion group, the Junta. When the phony 
Prussian baron Von Steuben directed bayonet drills for the colonial army, interest rose 
even higher. Prussia was a place to watch, an experimental state totally synthetic like our 
own, having been assembled out of lands conquered in the last crusade. For a full century 
Prussia acted as our mirror, showing elite America what we might become with 

In 1839, thirteen years before the first successful school compulsion law was passed in 
the United States, a perpetual critic of Boston Whig (Mann's own party) leadership 
charged that pro-posals to erect German-style teacher seminaries in this country were a 
thinly disguised attack on local and popular autonomy. The critic Brownson 2 allowed that 
state regulation of teaching licenses was a necessary preliminary only if school were 
intended to serve as a psychological control mechanism for the state and as a screen for a 
controlled economy. If that was the game truly afoot, said Brownson, it should be 
reckoned an act of treason. 

"Where the whole tendency of education is to create obedience," Brownson said, "all 
teachers must be pliant tools of government. Such a system of education is not 
inconsistent with the theory of Prussian society but the thing is wholly inadmissible 
here." He further argued that "according to our theory the people are wiser than the 
government. Here the people do not look to the government for light, for instruction, but 
the government looks to the people. The people give law to the government." He 
concluded that "to entrust government with the power of determining education which 
our children shall receive is entrusting our servant with the power of the master. The 
fundamental difference between the United States and Prussia has been overlooked by the 
board of education and its supporters." 3 

This same notion of German influence on American institutions occurred recently to a 
historian from Georgetown, Dr. Carroll Quigley. Quigley's analysis of elements in 
German character which were exported to us occurs in his book Tragedy and Hope: A 
History of the World in Our Time. Quigley traced what he called "the German thirst for 
the coziness of a totalitarian way of life" to the breakup of German tribes in the great 
migrations fifteen hundred years ago. When pagan Germany finally transferred its loyalty 
to the even better totalitarian system of Diocletian in post-Constantine Rome, that system 
was soon shattered, too, a second tragic loss of security for the Germans. According to 
Quigley, they refused to accept this loss. For the next one thousand years, Germans made 
every effort to reconstruct the universal system, from Charlemagne's Holy Roman 
Empire right up to the aftermath of Jena in 1806. During that thousand-year interval, 
other nations of the West developed individual liberty as the ultimate center of society 
and its principal philosophical reality. But while Germany was dragged along in the same 
process, it was never convinced that individual sovereignty was the right way to organize 

Germans, said Quigley, wanted freedom from the need to make decisions, the negative 
freedom that comes from a universal totalitarian structure which gives security and 
meaning to life. The German is most at home in military, ecclesiastical, or educational 
organizations, ill at ease with equality, democracy, individualism, or freedom. This was 
the spirit that gave the West forced schooling in the early nineteenth century, so spare a 
little patience while I tell you about Prussia and Prussianized Germany whose original 
mission was expressly religious but in time became something else. 

During the thirteenth century, the Order of Teutonic Knights set about creating a new 
state of their own. After fifty turbulent years of combat, the Order successfully 
Christianized Prussia by the efficient method of exterminating the entire native 
population and replacing it with Germans. By 1281, the Order's hold on lands once 
owned by the heathen Slavs was secure. Then something of vital importance to the future 
occurred — the system of administration selected to be set up over these territories was not 
one patterned on the customary European model of dispersed authority, but instead was 
built on the logic of Saracen centralized administration, an Asiatic form first described by 
crusaders returned from the Holy Land. For an example of these modes of administration 
in conflict, we have Herodotus' account of the Persian attempt to force the pass at 
Thermopylae — Persia with its huge bureaucratically subordinated army arrayed against 

self-directed Leonidas and his three hundred Spartans. This romantic image of personal 
initiative, however misleading, in conflict with a highly trained and specialized military 
bureaucracy, was passed down to sixty generations of citizens in Western lands as an 
inspiration and model. Now Prussia had established an Asiatic beachhead on the northern 
fringe of Europe, one guided by a different inspiration. 

Between the thirteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Order of Teutonic Knights evolved 
by gradual stages into a highly efficient, secular civil service. In 1525, Albert of 
Brandenberg declared Prussia a secular kingdom. By the eighteenth century, under 
Frederick the Great, Prussia had become a major European power in spite of its striking 
material disadvantages. From 1740 onwards, it was feared throughout Europe for its 
large, well-equipped, and deadly standing army, comprising a formulaic 1 percent of the 
population. After centuries of debate, the 1 percent formula became the lot of the United 
States military, too, a gift of Prussian strategist von Clausewitz to America. By 1740, the 
mature Prussian state-structure was almost complete. During the reigns of Frederick I and 
his son Frederick II, Frederick the Great, the modern absolute state was fashioned there 
by means of immense sacrifices imposed on the citizenry to sustain permanent 

The historian Thomas Macauley wrote of Prussia during these years: "The King carried 
on warfare as no European power ever had, he governed his own kingdom as he would 
govern a besieged town, not caring to what extent private property was destroyed or civil 
life suspended. The coin was debased, civil functionaries unpaid, but as long as means for 
destroying life remained, Frederick was determined to fight to the last." Goethe said 
Frederick "saw Prussia as a concept, the root cause of a process of abstraction consisting 
of norms, attitudes and characteristics which acquired a life of their own. It was a unique 
process, supra-individual, an attitude depersonalized, motivated only by the individual's 
duty to the State." Today it's easy for us to recognize Frederick as a systems theorist of 
genius, one with a real country to practice upon. 

Under Frederick William II, Frederick the Great's nephew and successor, from the end of 
the eighteenth century on into the nineteenth, Prussian citizens were deprived of all rights 
and privileges. Every existence was comprehensively subordinated to the purposes of the 
State, and in exchange the State agreed to act as a good father, giving food, work, and 
wages suited to the people's capacity, welfare for the poor and elderly, and universal 
schooling for children. The early nineteenth century saw Prussian state socialism arrive 
full-blown as the most dynamic force in world affairs, a powerful rival to industrial 
capitalism, with antagonisms sensed but not yet clearly identified. It was the moment of 
schooling, never to surrender its grip on the throat of society once achieved. 

Franklin's great-grandson, Alexander Dallas Bache became the leading American proponent of Prussianism in 1839. After a European school 
inspection tour lasting several years, his Report on Education in Europe, promoted heavily by Quakers, devoted hundreds of pages to glowing 
description of Pestalozzian method and to the German gymnasium. 

Brownson is the main figure in Christopher Lasch's bravura study of Progressivism, The True and Only Heaven, being offered there as the 
best fruit of American democratic orchards, a man who, having seemingly tried every major scheme of meaning the new nation had to offer, 
settled on trusting ordinary people as the best course into the future. 

In Opposition to Centralization (1839). 

Quigley holds the distinction of being the only college professor ever to be publicly honored by a major party presidential candidate, Bill 
Clinton, in his formal acceptance speech for the presidential nomination. 

The Prussian Reform Movement 

The devastating defeat by Napoleon at Jena triggered the so-called Prussian Reform 
Movement, a transformation which replaced cabinet rule (by appointees of the national 
leader) with rule by permanent civil servants and permanent government bureaus. Ask 
yourself which form of governance responds better to public opinion and you will realize 
what a radical chapter in European affairs was opened. The familiar three-tier system of 
education emerged in the Napoleonic era, one private tier, two government ones. At the 
top, one-half of 1 percent of the students attended A kadamiensschulen,' where, as future 
policy makers, they learned to think strategically, contextually, in wholes; they learned 
complex processes, and useful knowledge, studied history, wrote copiously, argued often, 
read deeply, and mastered tasks of command. 

The next level, Realsschulen, was intended mostly as a manufactory for the professional 
proletariat of engineers, architects, doctors, lawyers, career civil servants, and such other 
assistants as policy thinkers at times would require. From 5 to 7.5 percent of all students 
attended these "real schools," learning in a superficial fashion how to think in context, but 
mostly learning how to manage materials, men, and situations — to be problem solvers. 
This group would also staff the various policing functions of the state, bringing order to 
the domain. Finally, at the bottom of the pile, a group between 92 and 94 percent of the 
population attended "people's schools" where they learned obedience, cooperation and 
correct attitudes, along with rudiments of literacy and official state myths of history. 

This universal system of compulsion schooling was up and running by 1819, and soon 
became the eighth wonder of the world, promising for a brief time — in spite of its 
exclusionary layered structure — liberal education for all. But this early dream was soon 
abandoned. This particular Utopia had a different target than human equality; it aimed 
instead for frictionless efficiency. From its inception Volksschulen, the people's place, 
heavily discounted reading; reading produced dissatisfaction, it was thought. The Bell- 
school remedy was called for: a standard of virtual illiteracy formally taught under state 
church auspices. Reading offered too many windows onto better lives, too much 
familiarity with better ways of thinking. It was a gift unwise to share with those 
permanently consigned to low station. 

Heinrich Pestalozzi, an odd 2 Swiss-German school reformer, was producing at this time a 
nonliterary, experience-based pedagogy, strong in music and industrial arts, which was 
attracting much favorable attention in Prussia. Here seemed a way to keep the poor happy 
without arousing in them hopes of dramatically changing the social order. Pestalozzi 
claimed ability to mold the poor "to accept all the efforts peculiar to their class." He 
offered them love in place of ambition. By employing psychological means in the 
training of the young, class warfare might be avoided. 

A curiously prophetic note for the future development of scientific school teaching was 
that Pestalozzi himself could barely read. Not that he was a dummy; those talents simply 
weren't important in his work. He reckoned his own semiliteracy an advantage in dealing 
with children destined not to find employment requiring much verbal fluency. Seventeen 
agents of the Prussian government acted as Pestalozzi's assistants in Switzerland, 
bringing insights about the Swiss style of schooling home to northern Germany. 

While Pestalozzi's raggedy schools lurched clumsily from year to year, a nobleman, von 
Fellenberg, refined and systematized the Swiss reformer's disorderly notes, hammering 
the funky ensemble into clarified plans for a worldwide system of industrial education for 
the masses. As early as 1808, this nonacademic formulation was introduced into the 
United States under Joseph Neef, formerly a teacher at Pestalozzi's school. Neef, with 
important Quaker patronage, became the principal schoolmaster for Robert Owen's 
pioneering work-utopia at New Harmony, Indiana. Neef's efforts there provided high- 
powered conversational fodder to the fashionable Unitarian drawing rooms of Boston in 
the decades before compulsory legislation was passed. And when it did pass, all credit for 
the political victory belonged to those Unitarians. 

Neef's influence resonated across the United States after the collapse of New Harmony, 
through lectures given by Robert Owen's son (later a congressman, then referee of J.P. 
Morgan's legal contretemps with the U.S. Army 3 ), and through speeches and intrigues by 
that magnificent nineteenth-century female dynamo Scottish emigre Fanny Wright, who 
demanded the end of family life and its replacement by communitarian schooling. The 
tapestry of school origins is one of paths crossing and recrossing, and more apparent 
coincidences than seem likely. 

Together, Owen and Wright created the successful Workingman's Party of Philadelphia, 
which seized political control of that city in 1829. The party incorporated strong 
compulsion schooling proposals as part of its political platform. Its idea to place working- 
class children under the philosophical discipline of highly skilled craftsmen — men 
comparable socially to the yeomanry of pre-enclosure England — would have attracted 
favorable commentary in Philadelphia where banker Nicholas Biddle was locked in 
struggle for control of the nation's currency with working- class hero Andrew Jackson. 
Biddle's defeat by Jackson quickly moved abstract discussions of a possible social 
technology to control working class children from the airy realms of social hypothesis to 
policy discussions about immediate reality. In that instant of maximum tension between 
an embryonic financial capitalism and a populist republic struggling to emerge, the 
Prussian system of pedagogy came to seem perfectly sensible to men of means and 

I've exaggerated the neatness of this tripartite division in order to make clear its functional logic. The system as it actually grew in those days 
without an electronic technology of centralization was more whimsical than I've indicated, dependent partially on local tradition and resistance, 
partially on the ebb and flow of fortunes among different participants in the transformation. In some places, the "academy" portion didn't occur 
in a separate institution, but as a division inside the Realsschulen, something like today's "gifted and talented honors" programs as compared to 
the common garden variety "gifted and talented" pony shows. 

Pestalozzi's strangeness comes through in almost all the standard biographical sketches of him, despite universal efforts to emphasize his 
saintliness. In a recent study, Anthony Sutton claims Pestalozzi was also director of a secret lodge of "illuminated" Freemasonry — with the 
code name "Alfred." If true, the Swiss "educator" was even stranger than I sensed initially. 

During the Civil War, Morgan sold back to the army its own defective rifles (which had been auctioned as scrap) at a 1,300 percent profit. 
After a number of soldiers were killed and maimed, young Morgan found himself temporarily in hot water. Thanks to Owen his penalty was 
the return of about half his profit! 

Travelers' Reports 

Information about Prussian schooling was brought to America by a series of 
travelers 'reports published in the early nineteenth century. First was the report of John 
Griscom, whose book A Year in Europe (1819) highly praised the new Prussian schools. 
Griscom was read and admired by Thomas Jefferson and leading Americans whose 
intellectual patronage drew admirers into the net. Pestalozzi came into the center of focus 
at about the same time through the letters of William Woodbridge to The American 
Journal of Education, letters which examined this strange man and his "humane" 
methods through friendly eyes. Another important chapter in this school buildup came 
from Henry Dwight, 1 whose Travels in North Germany (1825) praised the new quasi- 
religious teacher seminaries in Prussia where prospective teachers were screened for 
correct attitudes toward the State. 

The most influential report, however, was French philosopher Victor Cousin's to the 
French government in 1831. This account by Cousin, France's Minister of Education, 
explained the administrative organization of Prussian education in depth, dwelling at 
length on the system of people's schools and its far-reaching implications for the 
economy and social order. Cousin's essay applauded Prussia for discovering ways to 
contain the danger of a frightening new social phenomenon, the industrial proletariat. So 
convincing was his presentation that within two years of its publication, French national 
schooling was drastically reorganized to meet Prussian Volksschulen standards. French 
children could be stupefied as easily as German ones. 

Across the Atlantic, a similar revolution took place in the brand new state of Michigan. 
Mimicking Prussian organization, heavily Germanic Michigan established the very first 
State Superintendency of Education. 2 With a state minister and state control entering all 
aspects of schooling, the only missing ingredient was compulsion legislation. 

On Cousin's heels came yet another influential report praising Prussian discipline and 
Prussian results, this time by the bearer of a prominent American name, the famous 
Calvin Stowe whose wife Harriet Beecher Stowe, conscience of the abolition movement, 
was author of its sacred text, Uncle Tom 's Cabin. Stowe's report to the Ohio legislature 
attesting to Prussian superiority was widely distributed across the country, the Ohio 
group mailing out ten thousand copies and the legislatures of Massachusetts, Michigan, 
Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Virginia each reprinting and distributing the 

The third major testimonial to Prussian schooling came in the form of Horace Mann's 
Seventh Report to the Boston School Committee in 1843. Mann's Sixth Report, as noted 
earlier, had been a paean to phrenology, the science of reading head bumps, which Mann 

argued was the only proper basis for curriculum design. The Seventh Report ranked 
Prussia first of all nations in schooling, England last. Pestalozzi's psychologically 
grounded form of pedagogy was specifically singled out for praise in each of the three 
influential reports I've recited, as was the resolutely nonintellectual subject matter of 
Prussian Volksschulen. Also praised were mild Pestalozzian discipline, grouping by age, 
multiple layers of supervision, and selective training for teachers. Wrote Mann, "There 
are many things there which we should do well to imitate." 3 

Mann's Report strongly recommended radical changes in reading instruction from the 
traditional alphabet system, which had made America literate, to Prussia's hieroglyphic- 
style technique. In a surprising way, this brought Mann's Report to general public 
attention because a group of Boston schoolmasters attacked his conclusions about the 
efficacy of the new reading method and a lively newspaper debate followed. Throughout 
nineteenth-century Prussia, its new form of education seemed to make that warlike nation 
prosper materially and militarily. While German science, philosophy, and military 
success seduced the whole world, thousands of prominent young Americans made the 
pilgrimage to Germany to study in its network of research universities, places where 
teaching and learning were always subordinate to investigations done on behalf of 
business and the state. Returning home with the coveted German Ph.D., those so degreed 
became university presidents and department heads, took over private industrial research 
bureaus, government offices, and the administrative professions. The men they 
subsequently hired for responsibility were those who found it morally agreeable to offer 
obeisance to the Prussian outlook, too; in this leveraged fashion the gradual takeover of 
American mental life managed itself. 

For a century here, Germany seemed at the center of everything civilized; nothing was so 
esoteric or commonplace it couldn't benefit from the application of German scientific 
procedure. Hegel, of Berlin University, even proposed historicism — that history was a 
scientific subject, displaying a progressive linear movement toward some mysterious end. 
Elsewhere, Herbart and Fechner were applying mathematical principles to learning, 
Muller and Helmholtz were grafting physiology to behavior in anticipation of the 
psychologized classroom, Fritsch and Hitzig were applying electrical stimulation to the 
brain to determine the relationship of brain functions to behavior, and Germany itself was 
approaching its epiphany of unification under Bismarck. 

When the spirit of Prussian pelotonfeuer crushed France in the lightning war of 1871, the 
world's attention focused intently on this hypnotic, Utopian place. What could be seen to 
happen there was an impressive demonstration that endless production flowed from a 
Baconian liaison between government, the academic mind, and industry. Credit for 
Prussian success was widely attributed to its form of schooling. What lay far from casual 
view was the religious vision of a completely systematic universe which animated this 
Frankensteinian nation. 

Of the legendary Dwight family which bankrolled Horace Mann's forced schooling operation. Dwight was a distant ancestor of Dwight D. 

"This happened under the direction of William Pierce, a man as strange in his own way as Pestalozzi. Pierce had been a Unitarian minister 
around Rochester, New York, until he was forced to flee across the Great Lakes to escape personal harm during the anti-Masonic furor just 
before the first Jackson election. Pierce was accused of concealing a lodge of llluminati behind the facade of his church. When his critics 
arrived with the tar and feathers, the great educator-to-be had already flown the coop to Michigan, his tools of illumination safely in his kit and 
a sneer of superior virtue on his noble lip. Some say a local lady of easy virtue betrayed the vigilante party to Pierce in exchange for a few 
pieces of Socinian silver, but 1 cannot confirm this reliably. How he came to be welcomed so warmly in Michigan and honored with such a 
high position might be worth investigating. 

The fact is Mann arrived in Prussia after the schools had closed for the summer, so that he never actuallysaw one in operation. This did 
nothing to dampen his enthusiasm, nor did he find it necessary to enlighten his readers to this interesting fact. I'll mention this again up ahead. 

Finding Work For Intellectuals 

The little North German state of Prussia had been described as "an army with a country," 
"a perpetual armed camp," "a gigantic penal institution." Even the built environment in 
Prussia was closely regimented: streets were made to run straight, town buildings and 
traffic were state-approved and regulated. Attempts were made to cleanse society of 
irregular elements like beggars, vagrants, and Gypsies, all this intended to turn Prussian 
society into "a huge human automaton" in the words of Hans Rosenberg. It was a state 
where scientific farming alternated with military drilling and with state-ordered 
meaningless tasks intended for no purpose but to subject the entire community to the 
experience of collective discipline — like fire drills in a modern junior high school or 
enforced silence during the interval between class periods. Prussia had become a 
comprehensive administrative Utopia. It was Sparta reborn. 

Administrative Utopias spring out of the psychological emptiness which happens where 
firmly established communities are nonexistent and what social cohesion there is is weak 
and undependable. Utopias lurch into being when Utopia happens best where there is no 
other social and political life around which seems attractive or even safe. The dream of 
state power refashioning countryside and people is powerful, especially compelling in 
times of insecurity where local leadership is inadequate to create a satisfying social order, 
as must have seemed the case in the waning decades of the nineteenth century. In 
particular, the growing intellectual classes began to resent their bondage to wealthy 
patrons, their lack of any truly meaningful function, their seeming overeducation for what 
responsibilities were available, their feelings of superfluousness. The larger national 
production grew on wheels and belts of steam power. The more it produced 
unprecedented surpluses, the greater became the number of intellectuals condemned to a 
parasitic role, and the more certain it became that some Utopian experiment must come 
along to make work for these idle hands. 

In such a climate it could not have seemed out of line to the new army of homeless men 
whose work was only endless thinking, to reorganize the entire world and to believe such 
a thing not impossible to attain. It was only a short step before associations of 
intellectuals began to consider it their duty to reorganize the world. It was then the clamor 
for universal forced schooling became strong. Such a need coincided with a 
corresponding need on the part of business to train the population as consumers rather 
than independent producers. 

In the last third of the nineteenth century, a loud call for popular education arose from 
princes of industry, from comfortable clergy, professional humanists and academic 

scientists, those who saw schooling as an instrument to achieve state and corporate 
purposes. Prior to 1870, the only countries where everybody was literate were Prussia, its 
tiny adjacent neighbor states in Nordic Scandinavia, and the United States. Despite all 
projects of the Enlightenment, of Napoleon, of the parliaments of England and Belgium 
and of revolutionaries like Cavour, the vast majority of Europeans could neither read nor 
write. It was not, of course, because they were stupid but because circumstances of their 
lives and cultures made literacy a luxury, sometimes even impossible. 

Steam and coal provided the necessary funds for establishing and maintaining great 
national systems of elementary schooling. Another influence was the progressivism of the 
liberal impulse, never more evident than in the presence of truly unprecedented 
abundance. Yes, it was true that to create that abundance it became necessary to uproot 
millions from their traditional habitats and habits, but one's conscience could be salved 
by saying that popular schooling would offer, in time, compensations for the proletariat. 
In any case, no one doubted Francois Guizot's epigram: "The opening of every 
schoolhouse closes a jail." 

For the enlightened classes, popular education after Prussia became a sacred cause, one 
meriting crusading zeal. In 1868, Hungary announced compulsion schooling; in 1869, 
Austria; in 1872, the famous Prussian system was nationalized to all the Germanies; 
1874, Switzerland; 1877, Italy; 1878, Holland; 1879, Belgium. Between 1878 and 1882, 
it became France's turn. School was made compulsory for British children in 1880. No 
serious voice except Tolstoy's questioned what was happening, and that Russian 
nobleman-novelist-mystic was easily ignored. Best known to the modern reader for War 
and Peace, Tolstoy is equally penetrating in The Kingdom of God Is Within You, in 
which he viewed such problems through the lens of Christianity. 

The school movement was strongest in Western and Northern Europe, the ancient lands 
of the Protestant Reformation, much weaker in Catholic Central and Southern Europe, 
virtually nonexistent at first in the Orthodox East. Enthusiasm for schooling is closely 
correlated with a nation's intensity in mechanical industry, and that closely correlated 
with its natural heritage of coal. One result passed over too quickly in historical accounts 
of school beginnings is the provision for a quasi-military noncommissioned officer corps 
of teachers, and a staff-grade corps of administrators to oversee the mobilized children. 
One consequence unexpected by middle classes (though perhaps not so unexpected to 
intellectual elites) was a striking increase in gullibility among well-schooled masses. 
Jacques Ellul is the most compelling analyst of this awful phenomenon, in his canonical 
essay Propaganda. He fingers schooling as an unparalleled propaganda instrument; if a 
schoolbook prints it and a teacher affirms it, who is so bold as to demur? 

The Technology Of Subjection 

Administrative Utopias are a peculiar kind of dreaming by those in power, driven by an 
urge to arrange the lives of others, organizing them for production, combat, or detention. 
The operating principles of administrative Utopia are hierarchy, discipline, regimentation, 
strict order, rational planning, a geometrical environment, a production line, a cellblock, 

and a form of welfarism. Government schools and some private schools pass such 
parameters with flying colors. In one sense, administrative Utopias are laboratories for 
exploring the technology of subjection and as such belong to a precise subdivision of 
pornographic art: total surveillance and total control of the helpless. The aim and mode of 
administrative Utopia is to bestow order and assistance on an unwilling population: to 
provide its clothing and food. To schedule it. In a masterpiece of cosmic misjudgment, 
the phrenologist George Combe wrote Horace Mann on November 14, 1843: 

The Prussian and Saxon governments by means of their schools and their just laws and 
rational public administration are doing a good deal to bring their people into a rational 
and moral condition. It is pretty obvious to thinking men that a few years more of this 
cultivation will lead to the development of free institutions in Germany. 

Earlier that year, on May 21, 1843, Mann had written to Combe: "I want to find out what 
are the results, as well as the workings of the famous Prussian system." Just three years 
earlier, with the election of Marcus Morton as governor of Massachusetts, a serious 
challenge had been presented to Mann and to his Board of Education and the air of 
Prussianism surrounding it and its manufacturer/politician friends. A House committee 
was directed to look into the new Board of Education and its plan to undertake a teachers 
college with $10,000 put up by industrialist Edmund Dwight. Four days after its 
assignment, the majority reported out a bill to kill the board! Discontinue the Normal 
School experiment, it said, and give Dwight his money back: 

If then the Board has any actual power, it is a dangerous power, touching directly upon 
the rights and duties of the Legislature; if it has no power, why continue its existence at 
an annual expense to the commonwealth? 

But the House committee did more; it warned explicitly that this board, dominated by a 
Unitarian majority of 7-5 (although Unitarians comprised less than 1 percent of the 
state), really wanted to install a Prussian system of education in Massachusetts, to put "a 
monopoly of power in a few hands, contrary in every respect to the true spirit of our 
democratical institutions." The vote of the House on this was the single greatest victory 
of Mann's political career, one for which he and his wealthy friends called in every favor 
they were owed. The result was 245 votes to continue, 1 82 votes to discontinue, and so 
the House voted to overturn the recommendations of its own committee. A 32-vote swing 
might have given us a much different twentieth century than the one we saw. 

Although Mann's own letters and diaries are replete with attacks on orthodox religionists 
as enemies of government schooling, an examination of the positive vote reveals that 
from the outset the orthodox churches were among Mann's staunchest allies. Mann had 
general support from Congregational, Presbyterian, and Baptist clergymen. At this early 
stage they were completely unaware of the doom secular schooling would spell out for 
their denominations. They had been seduced into believing school was a necessary 
insurance policy to deal with incoming waves of Catholic immigration from Ireland and 
Germany, the cheap labor army which as early as 1830 had been talked about in business 
circles and eagerly anticipated as an answer to America's production problems. 

The reason Germany, and not England, provided the original model for America's essay 
into compulsion schooling may be that Mann, while in Britain, had had a shocking 
experience in English class snobbery which left him reeling. Boston Common, he wrote, 
with its rows of mottled sycamore trees, gravel walks, and frog ponds was downright 
embarrassing compared with any number of stately English private grounds furnished 
with stag and deer, fine arboretums of botanical specimens from faraway lands, marble 
floors better than the table tops at home, portraits, tapestries, giant gold-frame mirrors. 
The ballroom in the Bulfmch house in Boston would be a butler's pantry in England, he 
wrote. When Mann visited Stafford House of the Duke of Cumberland, he went into 
culture shock: 

Convicts on treadmills provide the energy to pump water for fountains. I have seen 
equipages, palaces, and the regalia of royalty side by side with beggary, squalidness, and 
degradation in which the very features of humanity were almost lost in those of the brute. 

For this great distinction between the stratified orders of society, Mann held the Anglican 
church to blame. "Give me America with all its rawness and want. We have aristocracy 
enough at home and here I trace its foundations." Shocked from his English experience, 
Mann virtually willed that Prussian schools would provide him with answers, says his 
biographer Jonathan Messerli. 

Mann arrived in Prussia when its schools were closed for vacation. He toured empty 
classrooms, spoke with authorities, interviewed vacationing schoolmasters, and read piles 
of dusty official reports. Yet from this nonexperience he claimed to come away with a 
strong sense of the professional competence of Prussian teachers! All "admirably 
qualified and full of animation!" His wife Mary, of the famous Peabodys, wrote home: 
"We have not seen a teacher with a book in his hand in all Prussia; no, not one!" 
(emphasis added) This wasn't surprising, for they hardly saw teachers at all. 

Equally impressive, he wrote, was the wonderful obedience of children; these German 
kinder had "innate respect for superior years." The German teacher corps? "The finest 
collection of men I have ever seen — full of intelligence, dignity, benevolence, kindness 
and bearing...." Never, says Mann, did he witness "an instance of harshness and severity. 
All is kind, encouraging, animating, sympathizing." On the basis of imagining this 
miraculous vision of exactly the Prussia he wanted to see, Mann made a special plea for 
changes in the teaching of reading. He criticized the standard American practice of 
beginning with the alphabet and moving to syllables, urging his readers to consider the 
superior merit of teaching entire words from the beginning. "I am satisfied," he said, "our 
greatest error in teaching lies in beginning with the alphabet." 

The heart of Mann's most famous Report to the Boston School Committee, the legendary 
Seventh, rings a familiar theme in American affairs. It seems even then we were falling 
behind! This time, behind the Prussians in education. In order to catch up, it was 
mandatory to create a professional corps of teachers and a systematic curriculum, just as 
the Prussians had. Mann fervently implored the board to accept his prescription... while 
there was still time! The note of hysteria is a drum roll sounding throughout Mann's 

entire career; together with the vilification of his opponents, it constitutes much of 
Mann's spiritual signature. 

That fall, the Association of Masters of the Boston Public Schools published its 150-page 
rebuttal of Mann's Report. It attacked the normal schools proposal as a vehicle for 
propaganda for Mann's "hot bed theories, in which the projectors have disregarded 
experience and observation." It belittled his advocacy of phrenology and charged Mann 
with attempting to excite the prejudices of the ignorant. Its second attack was against the 
teacher-centered nonbook presentations of Prussian classrooms, insisting the 
psychological result of these was to break student potential "for forming the habit of 
independent and individual effort." The third attack was against the "word method" in 
teaching reading, and in defense of the traditional alphabet method. Lastly, it attacked 
Mann's belief that interest was a better motivator to learning than discipline: "Duty 
should come first and pleasure should grow out of the discharge of it." Thus was framed a 
profound conflict between the old world of the Puritans and the new psychological 
strategy of the Germans. 

The German/American Reichsbank 

Sixty years later, amid a well-coordinated attempt on the part of industrialists and 
financiers to transfer power over money and interest rates from elected representatives of 
the American people to a "Federal Reserve" of centralized private banking interests, 
George Reynolds, president of the American Bankers Association, rose before an 
audience on September 13, 1909, to declare himself flatly in favor of a central bank 
modeled after the German Reichsbank. As he spoke, the schools of the United States 
were being forcibly rebuilt on Prussian lines. 

On September 14, 1909, in Boston, the president of the United States, William Howard 
Taft, instructed the country that it should "take up seriously" the problem of establishing 
a centralized bank on the German model. As The Wall Street Journal put it, an important 
step in the education of Americans would soon be taken to translate the "realm of theory" 
into "practical politics," in pedagogy as well as finance. 

Dramatic, symbolic evidence of what was working deep in the bowels of the school 
institution surfaced in 1935. At the University of Chicago's experimental high school, the 
head of the Social Science department, Howard C. Hill, published an inspirational 
textbook, The Life and Work of the Citizen. It is decorated throughout with the fasces, 
symbol of the Fascist movement, an emblem binding government and corporation 
together as one entity. Mussolini had landed in America. 

The fasces are strange hybridized images, one might almost say Americanized. The 
bundle of sticks wrapped around a two-headed axe, the classic Italian Fascist image, has 
been decisively altered. Now the sticks are wrapped around a sword. They appear on the 
spine of this high school text, on the decorative page introducing Part One, again on a 
similar page for Part Two, and are repeated on Part Three and Part Four as well. There 
are also fierce, military eagles hovering above those pages. 

The strangest decoration of all faces the title page, a weird interlock of hands and wrists 
which, with only a few slight alterations of its structural members, would be a living 
swastika. 1 The legend announces it as representing the "united strength" of Law, Order, 
Science, and the Trades. Where the strength of America had been traditionally located in 
our First Amendment guarantee of argument, now the Prussian connection was shifting 
the locus of attention in school to cooperation, with both working and professional 
classes sandwiched between the watchful eye of Law and Order. Prussia had entrenched 
itself deep into the bowels of American institutional schooling. 

Interestingly enough, several versions of this book exist — although no indication that this is so appears on the copyright page. In one of these 
versions the familiar totalitarian symbols are much more pronounced than in the others. 

Chapter Eight 

A Coal-Fired Dream World 

Wanting coal we could not have smelted the iron needed to make our engines, nor have 
worked our engines when we had got them. But take away the engines and the great 
towns vanish like a dream. Manufacturers give place to agriculture and pasture, and not 
ten men can live where now ten thousand 

— Thomas Huxley (1875) 

Coal introduced a new race of men who work with machinery instead of their hands, who 
cluster together in cities instead of spreading over the land, men who trade with those of 
other nations as readily as with those of their own town.. .men whose market is no longer 
the city or country but the world itself. 

— Henry DeBeers Gibbins (1903) 

Coal At The Bottom Of Things 

Where I grew up the hand of coal was everywhere. Great paddle-wheel boats pushed it up 
and down the river every day, driven by the heat of coal fire. Columns of barges — eight, 
ten, twelve to a steamboat — were as common a sight to me as police cars are to the 
modern Manhattan where I live a half-century later. Those barges glide majestically 
through my memory, piled high with coal gleaming in the sunshine, glistening in the rain, 
coal destined for steel mills, coke ovens, machine works, chemical plants, coal yards and 
coal chutes everywhere. Long before we saw the lead barges push the river aside, we saw 
plumes of smoke shoot above the willows on the riverbanks. As the big paddle-wheel 
went crashing by, orange clouds of sulfuric rip surged up in waves from the depths of the 
deep green river, an angry reminder that this wasn't just water we were playing with. 

On certain days the town sky darkened from coal smoke, the air so dark automobiles used 
headlights at midday. Some favorite games we played circled around coal: one called 
simply "walking the railroad ties" gave way naturally to its successor "walking the rails" 
as a fellow got better at the thing. But whether you hopped along the creosoted wood or 
teetered on the polished steel stretching in the mind to infinity, the object was to gather 
up black diamonds spilled from the coal cars. 

At night we played ghostly games in and out of long rows of abandoned beehive coke 
ovens, which looked for all the world like Roman tombs. I can still hear the crunch of a 
battered shovel digging into the pyramid of coal in our basement and the creak of the 
cast-iron gate on the furnace door opening to accept another load into the flames. 
Squinting through medieval view slits in the grate like an armored knight's helmet paid 
off with a shocking blast of superheated air. Nothing could be a more awe-inspiring 
introduction to power for a child. 

Mother, puffing her Chesterfield, would often complain about dirty air as the cigarette 
smoldered, about the impossibility of keeping white clothes white for even a few hours, 
about her wish to live in the mountains where the air was clean. And Grandmother 
Mossie would say cryptically, her unfiltered Chesterfield cocked, "Smoke means work." 
Sometimes I heard men from the beer halls talking to Pappy (my granddad) about arcane 
matters which summoned up the same sacred utterance, "Smoke means work." 

In science class at Ben Franklin Junior High, up in the clean mountains where Mother 
finally arrived, coal was waiting for me. I remember Mrs. Conn with sections of coal in 
which fantastic fossil shapes were embedded. In the same school, a music teacher, name 
now forgotten, taught us to sing the song he told us miners sang as they trudged to the 
pits each morning: 

(Sadly, Slowly) 
Zum, Gollie, Gollie, Gollie, 
ZUM Gaw-lee, Gaw-lee, 
Zum, Gollie, Gollie, Gollie, 
ZUM Gaw-lee, Gaw-lee. 

Although I doubted that song was genuine because the miners I passed on the street were 
far from musical men, even as a boy, I loved the feeling of connection it awakened to a 
life far stranger than any fiction, a life going on deep inside the green hills around me 
while I sat at my desk in school. 

Occasionally an abandoned mine, its hollow tunnels reaching out for miles like dark 
tentacles beneath the earth, would catch fire along an undug coal seam and burn for 
years, causing wisps of smoke to issue from unlikely rural settings, reminder of the 
fiendish world unseen below the vegetable landscape. Now and then a coal tunnel would 
collapse, entombing men alive down there — from which fate (all too easy to imagine for 
a boy with a penchant for crawling around in storm drains) the victims would sometimes 
be rescued on the front page of the Sun-Telegraph, and sometimes not. When a situation 
like that was pronounced hopeless and miners sat dying underground with no chance of 
rescue — as sailors died in the hull of the Arizona at Pearl Harbor — I would stare in a 
different light at the black lumps I usually took for granted. 

Another thing I clearly remember is that years after a mine was abandoned and the 
community far above had lost memory of its subterranean workings, occasionally an 
entire unsuspecting town would begin to slump into the pit. Frantic effort to shore up old 
tunnels would stretch out over months, even years, the progress of creeping disaster 
faithfully recorded in newspapers and street corner gossip as it marched house by house 
toward its inexorable conclusion. Very interesting, I hear you mutter, but what on earth 
does all this have to do with the problem of schooling? The answer is everything, but it 
will take some effort to see why, so deeply buried has been the connection between 
schooling in all its aspects and the nature of the nation's work. 

The Demon Of Overproduction 

Real school reforms have always failed, not because they represent bad ideas but because 
they stand for different interpretations of the purpose of life than the current management 
of society will allow. If too many people adopted such reforms, a social and economic 
catastrophe would be provoked, one at least equal to that which followed the original 
imposition of centralized, collective life on men, women, and children in what had been a 
fairly libertarian American society. Reverberations of this earlier change in schooling are 
still being heard. What else do you think the explosion of homeschooling in recent years 

The reason this cataclysm, out of which we got forced schooling, has been put to the 
question so very little by the groups it violently damaged is that the earlier storm had a 
confusing aspect to it. Those who suffered most didn't necessarily experience declining 
incomes. The cost of the metamorphosis was paid for in liberties: loss of freedom, loss of 
time, loss of significant human associations — including those with one's own children — 
loss of a spiritual dimension, perhaps. Losses difficult to pin down. Coal, and later oil, 
relentlessly forced a shift in crucial aspects of social life: our relation to nature, our 
relation to each other, our relation to ourselves. But nowhere was the impact greater than 
in the upbringing of children. 

Colonial and Federal period economics in America emphasized the characteristics in 
children that were needed for independent livelihoods — characteristics which have 
remained at the heart of the romantic image of our nation in the world's eyes and in our 
own. These characteristics, however, were recognized by thinkers associated with the 
emerging industrial/financial systems as danger signs of incipient overproduction. The 
very ingenuity and self-reliance that built a strong and unique America came to be seen 
as its enemy. Competition was recognized as a corrosive agent no mass production 
economy could long tolerate without bringing ruinous financial panics in its wake, 
engendering bankruptcy and deflation. 

A preliminary explanation is in order. Prior to coal and the inventiveness coal inspired, 
no harm attended the very realistic American dream to have one's own business. A 
startling percentage of Americans did just that. Businesses were small and local, mostly 
subsistence operations like the myriad small farms and small services which kept home 
and hearth together across the land. Owning yourself was understood to be the best thing. 
The most radical aspect of this former economy was the way it turned ancient notions of 
social class privilege and ancient religious notions of exclusion on their ears. 

Yet, well inside a single generation, godlike fossil fuel power suddenly became available. 
Now here was the rub, that power was available to industrialists but at the same time to 
the most resourceful, tough-minded, independent, cantankerous, and indomitable group 
of ordinary citizens ever seen anywhere. A real danger existed that in the industrial 
economy being born, too many would recognize the new opportunity, thus creating far 
too much of everything for any market to absorb. 

The result: prices would collapse, capital would go unprotected. Using the positive 
method of analysis (of which more later), one could easily foresee that continuous 

generations of improved machinery (with never an end) might well be forthcoming once 
the commitment was made to let the coal genie completely out of the bottle. Yet in the 
face of a constant threat of overproduction, who would invest and reinvest and reinvest 
unless steps were taken to curtail promiscuous competition in the bud stage? The most 
efficient time to do that was ab ovo, damping down those qualities of mind and character 
which gave rise to the dangerous American craving for independence where it first began, 
in childhood. 

The older economy scheduled for replacement had set up its own basic expectations for 
children. Even small farmers considered it important to toughen the mind by reading, 
writing, debate, and declamation, and to learn to manage numbers well enough so that 
later one might manage one's own accounts. In the older society, competition was the 
tough love road to fairness in distribution. Democracy, religion, and local community 
were the counterpoise to excesses of individualism. In such a universe, home education, 
self-teaching, and teacher-directed local schoolhouses served well. 

In the waning days of this family-centered social order, an industrial replacement made 
necessary by coal lay waiting in the wings, but it was a perspective still unable to purge 
itself of excess competition, unable to sufficiently accept government as the partner it 
must have to suppress dangerous competition — from an all-too-democratic multitude. 

Then a miracle happened or was arranged to happen. After decades of surreptitious 
Northern provocation, the South fired on Fort Sumter. Hegel himself could not have 
planned history better. America was soon to find itself shoehorned into a monoculture. 
The Civil War demonstrated to industrialists and financiers how a standardized 
population trained to follow orders could be made to function as a reliable money tree; 
even more, how the common population could be stripped of its power to cause political 
trouble. These war years awakened canny nostalgia for the British colonial past, and in 
doing so, the coal-driven society was welcomed for the social future it promised as well 
as for its riches. 

The Quest For Arcadia 

The great mistake is to dismiss too hastily the inducements offered by industrial Utopia. 
Defense of it on strictly humanistic grounds is usually discarded as hypocrisy, but after 
some reflection, I don't think it is. Remember that many philosophical and scientific 
minds were fellow travelers in the industrial procession. Like Adam Smith, they 
predicted that just beyond the grim factory smoke and the foul pits where men mined 
coal, a neo-Arcadian Utopia beckoned — we have already witnessed its evanescent, 
premature embodiment in Chautauqua. Thus was the stage set for institutional schooling 
as it eventually emerged. This Arcadia would be possible only if men of great vision had 
the nerve and iron discipline to follow where rationality and science led. The crucial 
obstacle was this: an unknown number of generations would have to be sacrificed to 
industrial slavery before mankind could progress to its comfortable destiny. On the other 
side of that immoral divide, paradise might lie. 

How to get there? Though Malthus and Darwin had shown the way to intellectually 
devalue human life and to do with protoplasm whatever needed to be done, the force of 
Western tradition, particularly Judeo-Christian tradition, was still too strong to be 
brushed aside. Into this paradox stepped socialism. It was a happy coincidence that while 
one aspect of industrial imagination, the capitalist lobe, was doing the necessary dirty 
work of breaking the old order and reorganizing its parts, another, softer aspect of the 
same industrial mind could sing the identical song, but in a different key and to a 
different audience. 

What socialists helped capitalism to teach was that the industrial promise was true. The 
road to riches could be followed through coal smoke to an eventual paradise on earth. 
Only the masters had to be changed. In place of bosses would sit workers. Meanwhile, 
both sides agreed (Marx is particularly eloquent on this point) that many would have to 
suffer a great while, until predictable advances in social reordering would ultimately 
relieve their descendants. 

Managerial Utopia 

In an angry letter to the Atlantic Monthly (January 1998), Walter Greene, of Hatboro, 
Pennsylvania, protested the "myth of our failing schools," as he called it, on these 

We just happen to have the world's most productive work force, the largest economy, the 
highest material standard of living, more Nobel prizes than the rest of the world 
combined, the best system of higher education, the best high-tech medicine, and the 
strongest military. These things could not have been accomplished with second-rate 
systems of education. 

On the contrary, the surprising truth is they could not have been accomplished to the 
degree they have been without second-rate systems of education. But here it is, writ plain, 
the crux of an unbearable paradox posed by scientifically efficient schooling. It works. 
School, as we have it, does build national wealth, it does lead to endless scientific 
advances. Where is Greene's misstep? It lies in the equation of material prosperity and 
power with education when our affluence is built on schooling (and on entrepreneurial 
freedom, too, of course, for those libertarian enough to seize it). A century of relentless 
agit-prop has thrown us off the scent. The truth is that America's unprecedented global 
power and spectacular material wealth are a direct product of a third-rate educational 
system, upon whose inefficiency in developing intellect and character they depend. If we 
educated better we could not sustain the corporate Utopia we have made. Schools build 
national wealth by tearing down personal sovereignty, morality, and family life. It was a 

This contradiction is not unknown at the top, but it is never spoken aloud as part of the 
national school debate. Unacknowledged, it has been able to make its way among us 
undisturbed by protest. E.P. Thompson's classic, The Making of the English Working 
Class, is an eye-opening introduction to this bittersweet truth about "productive" 

workforces and national riches. When a Colorado coalminer testified before authorities in 
1871 that eight hours underground was long enough for any man because "he has no time 
to improve his intellect if he works more," the coaldigger could hardly have realized his 
very deficiency was value added to the market equation. 

What the nineteenth century in the coal-rich nations pointed toward was building 
infrastructure for managerial Utopia, a kind of society in which unelected functional 
specialists make all the decisions that matter. Formal periods of indoctrination and 
canonical books of instruction limit these specialists in their choices. The idea of 
managerial science is to embed managers so securely in abstract regulation and procedure 
that the fixed purpose of the endeavor becomes manager-proof. 

Managerial Utopias take tremendous effort to build. England's version of this political 
form was a millennium in the building. Such governance is costly to maintain because it 
wastes huge amounts of human time on a principle akin to the old warning that the Devil 
finds work for idle hands; it employs large numbers of incompetent and indifferent 
managers in positions of responsibility on the theory that loyalty is more important than 
ability to do the job. I watched this philosophy in action in public schools for thirty years. 

Ordinary people have a nasty habit of consciously and unconsciously sabotaging 
managerial Utopias, quietly trashing in whole or part the wishes of managers. To thwart 
these tendencies, expensive vigilance is the watchword of large systems, and the security 
aspect of managerial Utopia has to be paid for. Where did this money originally come 
from? The answer was from a surplus provided by coal, steam, steel, chemicals, and 
conquest. It was more than sufficient to pay for a mass school experiment. Society didn't 
slowly evolve to make way for a coal-based economy. It was forcibly made over in 
double time like Prussians marching to battle Napoleon at Waterloo. An entirely 
successful way of life was forcibly ushered out. 

Before anything could be modern, the damnable past had to be uprooted with its village 
culture, tight families, pious population, and independent livelihoods. Only a state 
religion had the power to do this — England and Germany were evidence of that — but 
America lacked one. A military establishment had power to do it, too. France, under the 
Directorate and Napoleon, was the most recent example of what physical force could 
accomplish in remaking the social order, but military power was still too dispersed and 
unreliable in America to employ it consistently against citizens. 

As the established Protestant religion schismed and broke apart, however, America came 
into possession of something that would serve in its place — a kaleidoscope of Utopian 
cults and a tradition of Utopian exhortation, a full palette of roving experts and teachers, 
Sunday schools, lyceums, pulpits, and Chautauquas. It was a propitious time and place in 
which to aim for long-range management of public opinion through the Utopian schooling 
vehicle Plato had described and that modern Prussia was actually using. 

It takes no great insight or intelligence to see that the health of a centralized economy 
built around dense concentrations of economic power and a close business alliance with 

government can't tolerate any considerable degree of intellectual schooling. This is no 
vain hypothesis. The recent French Revolution was widely regarded as the work of a 
horde of underemployed intellectuals, the American uprising more of the same. As the 
nineteenth century wore on, the Hungarian and Italian revolutions were both financed and 
partially planned from the United States using cells of marginal intellectuals, third sons, 
and other malcontents as a volunteer fifth column in advance of the revolutionary 
moment back home. Ample precedent to fear the educated was there; it was recognized 
that historical precedent identified thoughtful schooling as a dangerous blessing. 

The Positive Method 

Most of the anti-intellectual shift in schooling the young was determined by the attitudes 
and needs of prominent businessmen. The first exhibit for your perusal is the U.S. Bureau 
of Education's Circular of Information for April 1872, which centers around what it calls 
the "problem of educational schooling." With whose interests in mind did the bureau 
view education as a problem? The amazing answer is: from a big business perspective. 
By 1872, this still feeble arm of the federal government is seen filled with concern for 
large industrial employers at a time when those were still a modest fraction of the total 

According to this Circular of Information, "inculcating knowledge" teaches workers to be 
able to "perceive and calculate their grievances," thus making them "more redoubtable 
foes" in labor struggles. Indeed, this was one important reason for Thomas Jefferson's 
own tentative support of a system of universal schooling, but something had been lost 
between Monticello and the Capital. "Such an enabling is bound to retard the growth of 
industry," continues the Circular. There is nothing ambiguous about that statement at all, 
and the writer is correct, of course. 

Sixteen years later (1888), we can trace the growth in this attitude from the much more 
candid language in the Report of the Senate Committee on Education. Its gigantic bulk 
might be summarized in this single sentence taken from page 1,382: 

We believe that education is one of the principal causes of discontent of late years 
manifesting itself among the laboring classes. 

Once we acknowledge that planned economies of nation or corporation are systems with 
their own operating integrity, quite sensibly antagonistic to the risks educated minds 
pose, much of formal schooling's role in the transformation that came is predictable. If 
education is indeed "one of the principal causes of discontent," it performs that 
subversive function innocently by developing intellect and character in such a way as to 
resist absorption into impersonal systems: Here is the crux of the difference between 
education and schooling — the former turns on independence, knowledge, ability, 
comprehension, and integrity; the latter upon obedience. 

In The Empire of Business (1902), Andrew Carnegie, author of the Homestead siege 
which destroyed the steelworkers union, inveighs against "teachings which serve to 

imbue [children] with false ideas." From a transatlantic business perspective, education 
taught what was socially and economically useless, transmitting bad attitudes which 
turned students against the ripening scheme of centralized national management. 
Carnegie's new empire demanded that old-fashioned character be schooled out of 
children in a hurry. It would be a large mistake to assume this new empire of business of 
which Carnegie boasts was only a new face on old style greed. While it did take away 
liberty and sovereignty, it put forth serious intellectual arguments for doing so. Ordinary 
people were promised what Walter Greene's outraged letter quoted earlier at the 
beginning of this chapter tells you they got: the best space program, the best high-tech 
medicine, the strongest military, the highest material standard of living. These things 
could not have been accomplished without a kind of forced schooling that terminated 
most independent livelihoods. That was the price paid for a gusher of easy prosperity. 

To understand this paradox better requires some insight into what inspired such certainty 
among the architects of modern schooling that this disruption would work to produce 
material prosperity. Their faith that wealth would inevitably follow the social 
mechanization of the population is founded on a magnificent insight of Francis Bacon's, 
set down in startlingly clear prose back in the early seventeenth century. Thanks to the 
patronage of John Stuart Mill, by the mid-nineteenth century, the seeds that Bacon 
planted grew into the cult of scientific positivism, a movement we associate today with 
the name of a Frenchman, Auguste Comte. It's hard to overestimate the influence 
positivism had on the formation of mass schooling and on the shaping of an international 
corporate economy made possible by coal. 

Positivism holds that if proper procedures are honored, then scientific marvels and 
inventions follow automatically. If you weigh and measure and count and categorize 
slowly and patiently, retaining the microscopic bits of data which can be confirmed, 
rejecting those that cannot, on and on and on and on, then genius and talent are almost 
irrelevant — improvements will present themselves regularly in an endless progression 
despite any fall-off in creative power. Advances in power and control are mainly a 
function of the amount of money spent, the quantity of manpower employed, and correct 

Mankind can be freed from the tyranny of intelligence by faithful obedience to system! 
This is a shattering pronouncement, one made all the more difficult to resist because it 
seems to work. Even today, its full significance isn't widely understood, nor is the 
implacable enmity it demands toward any spiritual view of humanity. 

In the positivist method, the managerial classes of the late nineteenth century, including 
their Progressive progeny in the social management game, knew they had a mill to grind 
perpetual profits — financial, intellectual, and social. Since innovations in production and 
organization are a principal engine of social change, and since positive science has the 
power to produce such innovations without end, then even during the launch of our era of 
scientific management it had to be clear to its architects that nonstop social turbulence 
would be a daily companion of exercising this power. This is what the closet philosophy 
of bionomics was there to explain. It preached that the evolutionarily advanced would 

alone be able to tolerate the psychic chaos — as for the rest, the fate of Cro-Magnon man 
and the Neanderthal were history's answer. And the circularity of this convenient 
proposition was lost on its authors. 

Faced with the problem of dangerous educated adults, what could be more natural than a 
factory to produce safely stupefied children? You've already seen that the positive system 
has only limited regard for brainy people, so nothing is lost productively in dumbing 
down and leveling the mass population, even providing a dose of the same for "gifted and 
talented" children. And much can be gained in social efficiency. What motive could be 
more "humane" than the wish to defuse the social dynamite positive science was 
endlessly casting off as a byproduct of its success? 

To understand all this you have to be willing to see there is no known way to stop the 
social mutilation positive science leaves in its wake. Society must forcibly be adapted to 
accept its own continuing disintegration as a natural and inevitable thing, and taught to 
recognize its own resistance as a form of pathology to be expunged. Once an economic 
system becomes dependent on positive science, it can't allow any form of education to 
take root which might interrupt the constant accumulation of observations which produce 
the next scientific advance. 

In simple terms, what ordinary people call religious truth, liberty, free will, family values, 
the idea that life is not centrally about consumption or good physical health or getting 
rich — all these have to be strangled in the cause of progress. What inures the positivistic 
soul to the agony it inflicts on others is its righteous certainty that these bad times will 
pass. Evolution will breed out of existence unfortunates who can't tolerate this discipline. 

This is the sacred narrative of modernity, its substitute for the message of the Nazarene. 
History will end in Chautauqua. School is a means to this end. 

Plato's Guardians 

Coal made common citizens dangerous for the first time. The Coal Age put inordinate 
physical power within the reach of common people. The power to destroy through coal- 
derived explosive products was an obvious dramatization of a cosmic leveling foreseen 
only by religious fanatics, but much more dangerous as power became the power coal 
unleashed to create and to produce — available to all. 

The dangerous flip side of the power to produce isn't mere destruction, but 
overproduction, a condition which could degrade or even ruin the basis for the new 
financial system. The superficial economic advantage that overproduction seems to 
confer — increasing sales by reducing the unit price of products through savings realized 
by positivistic gains in machinery, labor, and energy utilization — is more than offset by 
the squeezing of profits in industry, commerce, and finance. If profit could not be 
virtually guaranteed, capitalists would not and could not gamble on the huge and 
continuous investments that a positivistic science-based business system demands. 

Now you can see the danger of competition. Competition pushed manufacturers to 
overproduction in self-defense. And for double jeopardy, the unique American 
entrepreneurial tradition encouraged an overproduction of manufacturers. This 
guaranteed periodic crises all along the line. Before the modern age could regard itself as 
mature, ways had to be found to control overproduction. In business, that was begun by 
the Morgan interests who developed a system of cooperative trusts among important 
business leaders. It was also furthered through the conversion of government from 
servant of the republic to servant of industry. To that end, the British government 
provided a clear model; Britain's military and foreign policy functioned as the right arm 
of her manufacturing interests. 

But of what lasting value could controlling topical overproduction be — addressing it 
where and when it threatened to break out — when the ultimate source of overproduction 
in products and services was the overproduction of minds by American libertarian 
schooling and the overproduction of characters capable of the feat of production in the 
first place? As long as such a pump existed to spew limitless numbers of independent, 
self-reliant, resourceful, and ambitious minds onto the scene, who could predict what risk 
to capital might strike next? To minds capable of thinking cosmically like Carnegie's, 
Rockefeller's, Rothschild's, Morgan's, or Cecil Rhodes', real scientific control of 
overproduction must rest ultimately on the power to constrain the production of intellect. 
Here was a task worthy of immortals. Coal provided capital to finance it. 

If the Coal Age promised anything thrilling to the kind of mind which thrives on 
managing the behavior of others, that promise would best be realized by placing control 
of everything important — food, clothing, shelter, recreation, the tools of war — in 
relatively few hands, creating a new race of benevolent, godlike managers, not for their 
own good but the good of all. Plato had called such benevolent despots "guardians." Why 
these men would necessarily be benevolent nobody ever bothered to explain. 

Abundant supplies of coal, and later oil, cried out for machinery which would tirelessly 
convert a stream of low- value raw materials into a cornucopia of things which everyone 
would covet. Through the dependence of the all on the few, an instrument of management 
and of elite association would be created far beyond anything ever seen in the past. This 
powerful promise was, however, fragilely balanced atop the need to homogenize the 
population and all its descendant generations. 1 A mass production economy can neither 
be created nor sustained without a leveled population, one conditioned to mass habits, 
mass tastes, mass enthusiasms, predictable mass behaviors. The will of both maker and 
purchaser had to give way to the predestinated output of machinery with a one-track 

Nothing posed a more formidable obstacle than the American family. Traditionally, a 
self-sufficient production unit for which the marketplace played only an incidental role, 
the American family grew and produced its own food, cooked and served it; made its 
own soap and clothing. And provided its own transportation, entertainment, health care, 
and old age assistance. It entered freely into cooperative associations with neighbors, not 

with corporations. If that way of life had continued successfully — as it has for the modern 
Amish — it would have spelled curtains for corporate society. 

Another factor which made ordinary citizens dangerous in a Coal Age was that coal gave 
rise to heavy industries whose importance for war-making made it imperative to have a 
workforce docile, dependable, and compliant. Too much was at stake to tolerate 
democracy. Coal-fired industry had such a complex organization it could be seriously 
disrupted by worker sabotage, and strikes could be fomented at any moment by a few 
dissident working men with some training in rhetoric and a little education. The 
heightened importance to high-speed industry of calculating mass labor as a predictable 
quality rendered nonconformity a serious matter. 

The danger from ordinary people is greatly magnified by the positive philosophy which 
drives a mass production, corporate management epoch. While it was necessary to 
sensitize ordinary people to the primacy of scientific needs, and to do this partially by 
making the study of biology, chemistry, physics, and so forth formal school lessons, to go 
further and reveal the insights of Bacon and Comte about how easily and inevitably 
Nature surrenders her secrets to anybody in possession of a simple, almost moronic 
method, was to open Pandora's box. The revolutionary character of scientific discovery 
discussed earlier — that it requires neither genius nor expensive equipment and is within 
reach of anyone — had to be concealed. 

It was through schooling that this revolutionary aspect of science (once known or at least 
suspected by tens of thousands of small, subsistence farming families and miscalled 
"Yankee ingenuity") was hidden right out in the open. From the start, science teaching 
was what it remains today: for the ordinary student, a simplified history of scientific 
discovery, and for the better classes, a simple instilling of knowledge and procedures. In 
this transmission of factual data and chronicles, the positive method remains unseen, 
unsuspected, and untaught. 

Taught correctly, science would allow large numbers of young people to find and practice 
the most effective techniques of discovery. The real gift science confers is teaching how 
to reach potent conclusions by common powers of observation and reasoning. But if 
incidental overproduction was already a crisis item in the minds of the new social 
planners, you can imagine what hysteria any attempt to broadcast the secrets of discovery 
would have occasioned. 

The General Education Board said it best when it said children had to be organized and 
taught in a way that would not make them "men of science." 2 To that end, science was 
presented in as authoritarian a form as Latin grammar, involving vast tracts of 
memorization. Children were taught that technical competence is bought and sold as a 
commodity; it does not presume to direct activities, or even to inquire into their purpose. 
When people are brought together to build a shopping mall, a dam, or an atomic bomb, 
nothing in the contract gives them latitude to question what they have been paid to do, or 
to stir up trouble with co-workers. Recruitment into the dangerous sciences was mostly 

limited to those whose family background made them safe. For the rest, science was 
taught in a fashion to make it harmless, ineffective, and even dull. 

Now my job is to open a window for you into that age of economic transformation whose 
needs and opportunities gave us the schools we got and still have. Thorstein Veblen said 
back in 1904, just a year or two before the forced schooling project began to take itself 
seriously, that "any theoretical inquiry into cultural life as it is running into the future 
must take into account the central importance of the businessman and his work." Insofar 
as any theorist aims to explain aspects of modern life like schools, the line of approach 
has to be from the businessman's standpoint, for it is business that drives the course of 

And while I urge the reader to remember that no notion of single causes can possibly 
account for schooling, yet the model of modern medicine — where the notion of single 
causes has been brilliantly productive — can teach us something. When medicine became 
"modern" at the end of the nineteenth century, it did so by embracing germ theory, a 
conception much less "factual" than it appears. The idea in germ theory is to trace 
specific pathologies to single instigators. Whatever its shortcomings, this narrowing of 
vision frequently revealed the direction in which successful treatment lay. 

Just so, the important thing in viewing the development of the modern economy is not to 
find in it a conspiracy against children, but to remain detached enough to ask ourselves 
how the development of forced schooling could have been any different than it was. To 
understand the modern economy and modern schooling, we need to see how they grow 
organically from coal and oil. 

Coal explains a part of the curious fact that modern Mexico is still not a mass society in spite of its authoritarian governing class and 
traditional ways, while the wealthy neighboring United States is. Mexico had no coal, and while it has recently acquired oil (and NAFTA 
linkage to the mass economy of North America) which will level its citizenry into a mass in time, centuries of individuation must first be 

"See epigTaph, Chapter Eleven, Page 221, which states the vital proposition even more clearly. 

Far-Sighted Businessmen 

Coal has been used for thousands of years as domestic fuel, for most of that time only in 
the few spots where it cropped out on the surface or was washed ashore by the sea. Any 
kind of plant matter can become coal, but most of what we have is the gift of the earth as 
it existed 350 million years ago when rushes and ferns grew tall as trees. Decay, 
compression, heat, and a great deal of time make the rock that burns. As it sits in your 
cellar it continues to putrefy; all coal gives off marsh gas or methane continuously. This 
is the reason coalmines blow up, a clue to even more explosive secrets locked inside its 
shiny blackness. 

When infortuitously methane becomes mixed with 5 percent oxygen it creates a highly 
explosive mixture miners call firedamp. Any bright eight-year-old could create this 
explosive with about five minutes' training — one good reason why the mass development 

of intellect after the Coal Age became more problematic than it might appear on the 
surface. Though such a possibility was never a central cause of the rush to school, it and 
other facts like it were details of consequence in the background of the tapestry. 

Through the early years of the eighteenth century, enormous technical problems plagued 
the development of coal. Once quarrying gave way to underground mining and shafts 
went below the water table, seepage became a nightmare. And as underground workings 
extended further and further from the shaft, the problem of hauling coal from where it 
was mined back to the shaft, and from the shaft hoisted to the surface — distances between 
five hundred and one thousand feet in places — posed enormous technological challenges. 
As did the simple matter of illumination in the dark tunnels. Collections of marsh gas 
might be encountered at any turn, resulting in the sudden termination of miners and all 
their expensive equipment. 

Solving these problems took two centuries, but that effort resulted in the invention of the 
steam engine and the railroad as direct solutions to the dilemmas of drainage and haulage 
under the earth. A simple pump, "the miner's friend" patented by Savery in 1699, became 
Newcomen's steam pump powered by water boiled over coalfires, driving a piston device 
which drained British coal- mines for the next century. Priscilla Long says, "The up and 
down motion of this piston, transferred to the moving parts of machines and especially to 
the wheels of trains" changed global society. Newcomen's pump used so much coal it 
could only be used near coalmines, but James Watt's engine, which came along at 
precisely the moment the Continental Congress was meeting in 1776, was superior in 
every way: efficient and capable of delivering a source of power anywhere. 

Industries could now be located away from coal fields because the coal industry had 
invented the railroad — as a way to solve its other underground problem, moving the coal 
from the diggings to the surface. By the middle of the seventeenth century, the haulage 
problem had been partially solved by laying wooden planks along coalmine tunnels as 
two parallel tracks upon which wagons could be drawn. These tracks, it was soon 
realized, had an aboveground use, too, as a transport highway from mine to sea and 
waterway. A century later, just after the moment some former British colonies in North 
America became the United States, a coal operator tied the steam engine of Watt to the 
task of moving coal from the seam face, and other men associated with large collieries 
produced the first railroad expressly for the purpose of hauling coal. 

It couldn't have run very long before other uses suggested themselves. Passenger travel 
followed almost immediately — the world's first reliable transportation system. Once 
unleashed on an idea this powerful, the globally successful British engineering 
community had a field day extending it. By 1838, the first steamship had crossed the 
Atlantic; a short while later transatlantic travel was on a timetable, just as classrooms in 
factory schools would come to be. 

The abundance of wood in the United States slowed the development of efficient 
railroads for an interval, as, after all, wood was free. But as trains improved with dazzling 
speed, the economy that wood offered was seen as a counterfeit — wood has only half the 

punch of coal. By 1836, coal had driven wood from the infant railroads. Explosive 
growth followed at once. Trackage grew from 1,100 miles in 1836 to 2,800 miles in 1841 
to 5,600 miles in 1845, to 1 1,000 miles in 1850, to 22,000 miles in 1855, to 44,000 miles 
in 1860 on the eve of the Civil War. 

Could the North have overwhelmed the South so handily without railroads? Would the 
West have developed the same way? The railroad, byproduct of the desire to gouge coal 
out of the earth, was a general's best friend. And America's first working compulsion 
schools were given to the nation by the Boston School Committee, an elite assembly 
importantly underwritten by money and influence from Peabody coal and railroading 
interests the year after Andrew Jackson left office. Far-sighted businessmen had seen the 
future before anyone else. 

Coal Gives The Coup De Grace 

The democracy which arises unprompted when people are on the same footing was 
finished with the coming of coal-fired steam locomotives. Before railroads, production 
was decentralized and dispersed among a myriad of local craftspeople. It was production 
on a small scale, mostly with local raw materials, by and for local people. Since horse- 
drawn vehicles couldn't reliably expect to make thirty miles a day, weather was always a 
vital reality in that kind of transport. Mud, snow, flooded creeks, dried-up watercourses 
in summer — all were forces turning people inward where they created lives of profound 

On the seacoast it was different. There, trading was international, and great trading 
families accumulated large stocks of capital, but still production wasn't centralized in 
factories. The pressure of idle capital, however, increasingly portended that something 
would come along to set this money in motion eventually. Meanwhile, it was a world in 
which everyone was a producer of some kind or a trader, entertainer, schoolteacher, 
logger, fisherman, butcher, baker, blacksmith, minister. Little producers made the 
economic decisions and determined the pace of work. The ultimate customers were 
friends and neighbors. 

As mass production evolved, the job of production was broken into small parts. Instead of 
finishing things, a worker would do the same task over and over. Fragmenting work this 
way allowed it to be mechanized, which involved an astonishing and unfamiliar control 
of time. Human beings now worked at the machine's pace, not the reverse, and the 
machine's pace was regulated by a manager who no longer shared the physical task. 
Could learning in school be regulated the same way? The idea was too promising not to 
have its trial. 

Workers in mass production work space are jammed closely together in a mockery of 
sociability, just as school kids were to be. Division of labor sharply reduced the meaning 
of work to employees. Only managers understood completely what was going on. Close 
supervision meant radical loss of freedom from what had been known before. Now 

knowledge of how to do important work passed out of local possession into the hands of 
a few owners and managers. 

Cheap manufactured goods ruined artisans. And as if in answer to a capitalist's prayers, 
population exploded in the coal-producing countries, guaranteeing cheaper and cheaper 
labor as the Coal Age progressed. The population of Britain increased only 15 percent 
from 1651 to 1800, but it grew thirteen times faster in the next coal century. The 
population of Germany rose 300 percent, the United States 1,700 percent. It was as if 
having other forms of personal significance stripped from them, people turned to family 
building for solace, evidence they were really alive. By 1913, coalmining afforded 
employment to one in every ten wage earners in the United States. 

Completion of the nation's railroad network allowed the rise of business and banking 
communities with ties to every whistle-stop and area of opportunity, increasing 
concentration of capital into pools and trusts. "The whole country has become a close 
neighborhood," said one businessman in 1888. Invention and harnessing of steam power 
precipitated the greatest economic revolution of modern times. New forms of power 
required large-scale organization and a degree of social coordination and centralized 
planning undreamed of in Western societies since the Egypt of Rameses. 

As the implications of coal penetrated the national imagination, it was seen more and 
more by employers that the English class system provided just the efficiency demanded 
by the logic of mechanization — everyone to his or her place in the order. The madness of 
Jacksonian democracy on the other hand, the irrationality of Southern sectionalism, the 
tradition of small entrepreneurialism, all these would have to be overcome. 

Realization of the end product of a managerial, mass production economic system and an 
orderly social system seemed to justify any grief, any suffering. In the 1 840s, British 
capitalists, pockets jingling with the royal profits of earlier industrial decades and 
reacting against social unrest in Britain and on the Continent, escalated their investments 
in the United States, bringing with their crowns, pounds, and shillings, a political 
consciousness and social philosophy some Americans thought had been banished forever 
from these shores. 

These new colonizers carried a message that there had to be social solidarity among the 
upper classes for capital to work. Financial capital was the master machine that activated 
all other machinery. Capital had to be amassed in a few hands to be used well, and 
amassing capital wasn't possible unless a great degree of trust permeated the society of 
capitalists. That meant living together, sharing the same philosophical beliefs on big 
questions, marrying into each other's families, maintaining a distance from ordinary 
people who would certainly have to be ill-treated from time to time out of the exigencies 
of liberal economics. The greatest service that Edith Wharton and Henry James, William 
Dean Howells and a few other writers did for history was to chronicle this withdrawal of 
capital into a private world as the linchpin of the new system. 

For the moment, however, it's only important to see how reciprocal the demands of 
industrialization and the demands of class snobbishness really are. It isn't so much that 
people gaining wealth began to disdain their ordinary neighbors as it is that such disdain 
is an integral part of the wealth-building process. In-group disdain of others builds team 
spirit among various wealth seekers. Without such spirit, capital could hardly exist in a 
stable form because great centralized businesses and bureaus couldn't survive without a 
mutual aid society of interlocking directorates which act effectively to restrain 

Whether this process of separation and refinement of human raw material had any 
important influence on the shape and purpose of forced schooling, I leave to your own 
judgment. It's for you to decide if what Engels termed the contradiction between the 
social character of production and its control by a few individuals was magnified in the 
United States by the creation of a national managerial class. That happened in a very 
short span of time in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. 

The Spectre Of Uncontrolled Breeding 

School as we know it was the creation of four great coal powers whose ingenious 
employment of the coal-powered steam engine shrank distance and crippled local 
integrity and the credibility of local elites. But the United States produced almost as 
much coal as the other three school-bound nations put together, as you can see from 
figures for coal production in 1905: 1) United States — 351 million tons; 2) United 
Kingdom — 236 million tons; 3) Germany — 121 million tons; 4) France — 35 million tons. 

Prior to the advent of coal-based economics, mass society was a phenomenon of the 
Orient, spoken of with contempt in the West. Even as late as 1941, 1 remember a barrage 
of adult discourse from press, screen, radio, and from conversations of elders that Japan 
and China had no regard for human life, by which I presume they meant individual 
human life. "Banzai!" was supposed to be the cry of fanatical Japanese infantrymen eager 
to die for the Emperor, but Western fighting men, in the words of H.G. Wells' wife, were 
"thinking bayonets." For that reason Germany was much more feared than Japan in 

With the advent of coal and steam engines, modern civilization and modern schooling 
came about. One of the great original arguments for mass schooling was that it would 
tame and train children uprooted from families broken by mining and factory work. In 
sophisticated spots like Unitarian Boston and Quaker/ Anglican Philadelphia, school was 
sold to the upper classes as a tool to keep children from rooting themselves in the culture 
of their own industrially debased parents. 

The full impact of coal-massified societies on human consciousness is caught 
inadvertently in Cal Tech nuclear scientist Harrison Brown's The Challenge of Man 's 
Future (1954), a book pronounced "great" by fellow Nobel Prize-winning geneticist 
Hermann Muller. Brown examines carefully the probability that the human carrying 

capacity of the planet is between 50 and 200 billion people, before summarizing the 
reasons this fact is best kept secret: 

If humanity had its way, it would not rest content until the earth is covered completely 
and to a considerable depth with a writhing mass of human beings, much as a dead cow is 
covered with a pulsating mass of maggots. 

Brown's metaphors reveal something of the attitude that raised schooling in the first 
place on the industrial base of coal, steam, and steel. Among other things, the new 
institution would be an instrument to prevent mass humanity from "having its way." 

This essay, characteristic of many such syntheses issuing from foundation and corporate- 
sponsored university figures of reputation through the century, as well as from public 
intellectuals like H.G. Wells, was written on the island of Jamaica which to Brown 
"appears to be a tropical paradise," but his scientific eye sees it is actually "the world in 
miniature" where "the struggle for survival goes on" amidst "ugliness, starvation, and 
misery." In this deceptive Utopia, the "comfortable and secure" 20 percent who live in a 
"machine civilization" made possible by coal and oil, are actually "in a very precarious 
position," threatened by the rapid multiplication of "the starving." Such paranoia runs like 
a backbone through Western history, from Malthus to Carl Sagan. 

Only the United States can stop the threat of overbreeding, says Nobel laureate Brown. 
"The destiny of humanity depends on our decisions and upon our actions." And what 
price should we pay for safety? Nothing less than "world authority with jurisdiction over 
population." The penalty for previous overproduction of the unfit had become by 1954 
simply this, that "...thoughts and actions must be ever more strongly limited." Brown 
continued, "[We must create a society] where social organization is all-pervasive, 
complex and inflexible, and where the state completely dominates the individual." What 
is "inflexible" social organization but a class system? Remember your own school. Did a 
class system exist there? I can see you through my typewriter keys. You're nodding. 

Global Associations Of Technique 

In 1700 it took nineteen farmers to feed one nonfarmer, a guarantee that people who 
minded other people's business would only be an accent note in general society. One 
hundred years later England had driven its yeoman farmers almost out of existence, 
converting a few into an agricultural proletariat to take advantage of machine-age 
farming practices only sensible in large holdings. By 1900, one farmer could feed 
nineteen, releasing eighteen men and women for disposal otherwise. Schools during this 
period, however, remained trapped in the way things used to be, unable to deliver on their 
inherent potential as massifiers. 

Between 1830 and 1840, the decade in which the Boston School Committee came into 
existence, a fantastic transformation built out of steam and coal became visible. When the 
decade began, the surface aspect of the nation was consistent with the familiar life of 
colonial times, the same relationships, the same values. By its end, modern American 

history begins. Chicago, a frontier fort in 1832, was by 1838 a flourishing city with eight 
daily steamboat connections to Buffalo, the Paris of Lake Erie. 

But something to rival steam-driven transport in importance appeared at almost the same 
time: cheap steel. The embryonic steel industry which had come into existence in the 
eighteenth century revolutionized itself in the nineteenth when the secret of producing 
steel cheaply was revealed. Formerly steel had been bought dearly in small quantities by 
smelting iron ore with coke, converting the resulting iron pigs into wrought iron by 
puddling. This was followed by rolling and then by processing fine wrought iron through 
a further step called cementation. Steel made this way could only be used for high-grade 
articles like watch springs, knives, tools, and shoe buckles. 

The first part of the new steel revolution followed from discovery of the Bessemer 
process in 1856. Now steel could be made directly from pig iron. In 1865 the Siemens- 
Martin open hearth technique gave a similar product of even more uniform quality than 
Bessemer steel. The next advance occurred in 1879 when Thomas and Gilchrist 
discovered how to use formerly unsuitable phosphoric iron ore (more common than 
nonphosphoric) in steelmaking, yielding as its byproduct valuable artificial fertilizer for 
agriculture. These two transformations made possible the substitution of steel for wrought 
iron and opened hundreds of new uses. Steel rails gave a huge push to railway 
construction, and structural steelwork marked a stupendous advance in engineering 
possibilities, allowing a radical reconception of human society. Capital began to build for 
itself truly global associations which made national sovereignty irrelevant for a small 
class of leaders as long as a century ago. 3 And that fact alone had great relevance for the 
future of schooling. As steel articulated itself rationally, vertical integration became the 
order of the day. Iron and steel reached backwards to control coalmines and coking plants 
and forward to acquire rolling mills, plant mills, wire-drawing facilities, galvanized iron 
and tin plate establishments, rod mills, etc. Small under-takings were sucked inexorably 
into large trusts. 

Every one of the most modern developments in technique and organization pioneered by 
steel was echoed in the new factory schools: increase in the size of the plant; integration 
of formerly independent educational factors like family, church, library, and recreational 
facility into a coalition dominated by professional schooling; the specialization of all 
pedagogical labor; and the standardization of curriculum, testing, and acceptable 
educational behavior. What confused the issue for the participant population is that 
parents and students still believed that efficiency in the development of various literacies 
was the goal of the school exercise. Indeed, they still do. But that had ceased to be the 
purpose in big cities as early as 1905. Schooling was about efficiency. Social efficiency 
meant standardizing human units. 

Surprisingly enough to those who expect that institutional thinking will reflect their own 
thought only on a larger scale, what is an asset to a mass production economy is 
frequently a liability to an individual or a family. Creating value in children for a mass 
production workplace through schooling meant degrading their intellectual growth and 
discouraging any premature utility to the larger society. Ellwood P. Cubberley 

inadvertently spilled the beans in his classic Public Education in the United States when 
he admitted compulsion schooling would not work as long as children were allowed to be 
useful to the real world. Ending that usefulness demanded legislation, inspectors, stiff 
penalties, and managed public opinion. 

New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, North Carolina, 
Michigan, Wisconsin, and Rhode Island led the charge to seal off the escape route of 
useful work for children, just as they once led the drive for compulsion schooling in the 
first place. The child labor rhetoric of the day was impressively passionate, some of it 
genuinely felt and needed, but the cynical aspect can be detected in a loophole created for 
show business children — "professional children" as they are called in the argot. Whether 
the "work" of an actor-child is less degrading than any other kind of work is a question 
not difficult for most people to answer. 

3 This is the simplest explanation for events which would otherwise fall beyond the reach of the mind to understand — such as the well- 
documented fact that legendary German armaments maker Krupp sold its cannon to France during World War I, shipping them to the enemy by 
a circuitous route clouded by clerical thaumaturgy, or that the Ford Motor Company built tanks and other armaments for the Nazi government 
during WWII, collecting its profits through middle men in neutral Spain. Ford petitioned the American government for compensation of 
damages suffered by its plants in wartime bombing raids, compensation it received by Act of CongTess with hardly a dissenting vote. Nor were 
Krupp and Ford more than emblems of fairly common practice, even if one unknown to the common citizenry of combatant nations. 

Labor Becomes Expendable 

One dramatic illustration of the positive philosophy in action is written in coal dust. As a 
heat source, coal seems a simple trade-off: we accept environmental degradation and the 
inevitable death and crippling of a number of coalminers (350,000 accidental deaths since 
1800, 750,000 cases of black lung disease, and an unknown number of permanent and 
temporary injuries) in exchange for warmth in cold weather and for other good things. 
But all sorts of unpredictable benefits flowed from the struggle to make the business of 
keeping warm efficient, and the world of forced schooling was dictated by coal. 

Consider the romantic gaslight era which by 1870, as far away as Denver and San 
Francisco, graced the nights of American villages and cities with magical illumination 
made possible by coal gas produced when coal is purified into coke. In addition to 
allowing the steel industry to replace the iron industry, this major unforeseen benefit 
turned night into day as settlements blazed with light. And with illumination, coal had 
only just begun to share its many secrets. It was also a storehouse of chemical wealth out 
of which the modern chemical industry was born. Coke ovens produced ammonia liquor 
as a byproduct from which agricultural fertilizer is easily prepared; it's also a basis for 
cheap, readily available, medium-yield explosives. 

Coal yields benzol and tars from which our dyes and many modern medicines are made; 
it yields gas which can be converted into electrical energy; it yields perfumes and dozens 
of other useful things. During the production of coal gas, sulphur — the source of sulfuric 
acid vital to many chemical processes — is collected. Coal tar can further be refined into 
kerosene. From 1850 to 1860, the German scientist August Wilhelm von Hoffmann, 
working at the Royal College of Chemistry in England, made discoveries inspired by 

coal's extraordinary hidden potential which elevated chemistry into a national priority in 
those countries which maintained extra-territorial ambitions like the United States. By 
1 896, heavier-than-air flight had been achieved long before the Wright brothers when a 
pilotless steam airplane with a forty foot wingspan began making trips along the Potomac 
River near Washington in full view of many important spectators. 

As great as coal and steam engines were at stimulating social ferment, they met their 
master in oil and the internal combustion engine. Coal is twice as efficient an energy 
source as wood; oil twice as efficient as coal. Oil made its debut just as the Civil War 
began. As with coal, there had been ancient references to this form of liquid coal in 
Strabo, Dioscorides, and Pliny. Records exist of its use in China and Japan in the Pre- 
Christian era (Marco Polo described the oil springs of Baku at the end of the thirteenth 
century). All that was needed was an engine adapted to its use. 

The first patent for the use of gasoline motive power was issued in England in 1794. By 
1820 at Cambridge University men knew how to use gas to move machinery. By 1860 
gas engines were in limited use all over Europe, four hundred in Paris alone. The first 
American exploitation of any importance occurred at Seneca Lake, New York, in 1859, 
not a long ride from the ancestral home of the Rockefeller family in the town of 
Bainbridge. Following the lead of coal, oil was soon producing a fossil-fuel 
transformation of American society, even though irregular supply kept oil from achieving 
its dominant place in the energy pantheon quickly. But by 1898 the supply problem was 
solved. Twelve years later, oil replaced coal as the energy of choice, delivering 
advantages by weight, saving labor in transit, storage, and extraction, and just as with 
coal, undreamed of bonus benefits were harvested from oil. In 1910, a windfall of 3 
million horsepower hours was generated from waste gas alone, thrown off by oil used in 
blast furnace operation. 

Burying Children Alive 

Think of coalmines as vast experimental laboratories of human behavior testing the 
proposition that men, women, and children will do virtually anything — even allow 
themselves to be consigned to damp dangerous tunnels under the ground for all the 
sunlight hours in order to have real work to do as part of the community of mankind. If 
the American Revolution could be said (as the Declaration held) to demonstrate a self- 
evident truth, that all were "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights," 
the coal revolution tested the contrary proposition — just how far those rights could be 
taken away if exchanged for work. Work was shown by this unworldly occupation to be a 
value as necessary to human contentment as liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In lieu 
of alternatives, people would indeed bury themselves alive to get it. 

And coal was a continuous, highly visible object lesson about just how thoroughly the 
concerns of unseen outside interests could be imposed on childhood. For over a century, 
the best profits had come from using young children as coalminers. By 1843, when 
Horace Mann visited coal-dependent Prussia to gather background for his Seventh 

Report, boys and girls between the ages of five and eight were at work in every coalmine 
in America. Fifty percent of all coalminers were children. 

Children were employed as trappers to open and shut doors guiding air through the mine, 
as fillers to fill carriages as grown men knocked coal from the seams, and as hurriers to 
push trucks along to the workers at the foot of the shaft. In some places trucks were 
pulled instead of pushed, and little girls were employed as pullers because their small 
size was in harmony with the diminutive tunnels, and because they were more 
dependable than boys. An excerpt from a Pittsburgh newspaper of the day is instructive: 

A girdle is put round the naked waist, to which a chain from the carriage is hooked, and 
the girls crawl on their hands and knees, drawing the carriage after them. 

One quiet stream in my own family background was the McManus family from West 
Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, Irish immigrants in the 1840s. Census records list some of them 
as coal- miners. My grandmother was Moss McManus before she became Moss Zimmer. 
She never talked about the past or recalled a single ancestor except one, a McManus 
licensed as a Mississippi River pilot in a document signed by Abraham Lincoln which 
still floats around somewhere in the family. What of all those coalminers, Moss? No 
memories for your grandson? I suppose the answer is she was ashamed. Coalmining was 
something that ignorant, shanty-boat Irish did, not a fit occupation for lace-curtain Irish, 
as Moss tried so hard to be in the face of long odds. 

Long after the owners of mines, mills, and factories had abandoned piety except on 
ceremonial occasions, miners would pray for the strength to endure what had to be 
endured. Their children would pray with them. Here are the words of a little eight-year- 
old girl — exactly the age of my own granddaughter Moss as I write this — who worked as 
a coal miner a hundred years ago. Worked, perhaps, for the famously civilized Dwights 
and Peabodys of New England: 

I'm a trapper in the Gamer Pit. I have to trap without a light and I'm scared. I go at four 
and sometimes half past three in the morning and come out at five and a half past. I never 
go to sleep. Sometimes I sing when I've light, but not in the dark, I dare not sing then. 

Isn't the most incredible part of that the fact she could write so eloquently with no formal 
schooling at all? The year was 1867. A newspaper of that year observed: 

Chained, belted, harnessed like dogs in a go-cart, black, saturated with wet and more than 
half-naked — crawling upon their hands and feet and dragging their heavy loads behind 
them — they presented an appearance indescribably disgusting and unnatural. 

The confinement of American children to warehouse schools less than a half-century later 
had been pioneered by the Massachusetts experiment we associate with Horace Mann in 
the decade just before the Civil War. No other state followed Massachusetts' lead for a 
long time, but everywhere children were engaged in mining and factory work. In 

Massachusetts, the essential practice in confinement was underway, a prelude to 
universal acceptance of schooling as the natural burden of childhood. 

Schools were the anti-matter twins of mines and mills: the latter added children to the 
labor market, schools subtracted them. Both were important functions of a new, 
centralized command economy. By 1900, direct child labor had been rendered 
unnecessary by the swift onset of mechanization, except in those anomalous areas like 
theater, carnival, advertising, and modeling where special pleading to keep children at 
work would succeed during the general campaign to insulate children from common life. 

The End Of Competition 

By 1905, industrial corporations employed 71 percent of all wage earners, mining 
enterprises 10 percent more. At exactly the moment forced-schooling legislation in 
America was being given its bite by the wholesale use of police, social service 
investigators, and public exhortation, corporate capitalism boiled up like sulphur in the 
Monongahela to color every aspect of national life. Corporate spokesmen and academic 
interpreters, often the same people, frequently explained what was happening as a stage 
in the evolution of the race. A Johns Hopkins professor writing in 1900 said that what 
was really happening behind the smokescreen of profit-making was "the sifting out of 
genius" and "the elimination of the weak." 

The leading patent attorney in the nation speaking in the same year said nothing, 
including the law, could stem the new tide running, the only realistic course was 
"acquiescence and adjustment." Charles Willard of Sears & Roebuck was the speaker. 
Willard suggested the familiar American competitive system "is not necessarily meant for 
all eternity." Business was wisely overthrowing competitive wastefulness which 
produced only "panic, overproduction, bad distribution and uncertainty, replacing it with 
protected privilege for elected producers." 

The principles of the business revolution which gave us schooling are still virtually 
unknown to the public. Competition was effectively crippled nearly a century ago when, 
profoundly influenced by doctrines of positivism and scientific Darwinism, corporate 
innovators like Carnegie and Morgan denounced competition's evils, urging the mogul 
class to reconstruct America and then the world, in the cooperative corporate image. 
"Nothing less than the supremacy of the world lies at our feet," said Carnegie 
prophetically. Adam Smith's competitive, self-regulating market would be the death of 
the new economy if not suppressed because it encouraged chronic overproduction. 

Henry Holt, the publisher, speaking in 1908, said there was "too much enterprise." The 
only effective plan was to put whole industries under central control; the school industry 
was no exception. Excessive overproduction of brains is the root cause of the 
overproduction of everything else, he said. 

James Livingston has written an excellent short account of this rapid social 
transformation, cedledOrigins of the Federal Reserve System, from which I've taken some 

lessons. Livingston tells us that the very language of proponents of corporate America 
underwent a radical change at the start of the century. Business decisions began to be 
spoken of almost exclusively as courses of purposeful social action, not mere profit- 
seeking. Charles Phillips of the Delaware Trust wrote, for instance, "The banker, the 
merchant, the manufacturer, and the agent of transportation must unite to create and 
maintain that reasonable distribution of opportunity, of advantage, and of profit, which 
alone can forestall revolution." (emphasis added) It hardly requires genius to see how 
such a directive would play itself out in forced schooling. 

In 1900, in his book Corporations and the Public Welfare, James Dill warned that the 
most critical social question of the day was figuring out how to get rid of the small 
entrepreneur, yet at the same time retain his loyalty "to a system based on private 
enterprise." The small entrepreneur had been the heart of the American republican ideal, 
the soul of its democratic strength. So the many school training habits which led directly 
to small entrepreneurship had to be eliminated. 

Control of commodity circulation by a few demanded similar control in commodity 
production. To this end, immediate sanctions were leveled against older practices: first, 
destruction of skilled worker craft unions which, up to the Homestead steel strike in 
1892, had regulated the terms of work in a factory. Inside a decade, all such unions were 
rendered ineffective with the single exception of the United Mine Workers. Second, 
professionalization of mental labor to place it under central control also was speedily 
accomplished through school requirements and licensing legislation. 

In the emerging world of corporate Newspeak, education became schooling and 
schooling education. The positive philosophy freed business philosophers like Carnegie 
from the tyranny of feeling they had always to hire the best and brightest on their own 
independent terms for company operations. Let fools continue to walk that dead-end path. 
Science knew that obedient and faithful executives were superior to brilliant ones. Brains 
were needed, certainly, but like an excess of capsicum, too much of the mental stuff 
would ruin the national digestion. One of the main points of the dramatic shift to mass 
production and mass schooling was to turn Americans into a mass population. 

America Is Massified 

Older American forms of schooling would never have been equal to the responsibility 
coal, steam, steel, and machinery laid upon them. As late as 1890, the duration of the 
average school year was twelve to twenty weeks. Even with that, school attendance 
hovered between 26 and 42 percent nationwide with the higher figure only in a few 
places like Salem, Massachusetts. 

Yet America had to be massified, and quickly. Since the end of the nineteenth century, 
American government and big business had been fully committed, without public fanfare, 
to creating and maintaining a mass society. Mass society demands tight administration, 
close management to an extreme degree. Humanity becomes undependable, dangerous, 
childlike, and suicidal under such discipline. Holding this contradiction stable requires 

managers of systematic schooling to withdraw trust, to regard their clientele as hospital 
managers might think of potentially homicidal patients. Students, men under military 
discipline, and employees in post offices, hospitals, and other large systems are forced 
into a condition of less than complete sanity. They are dangerous, 4 as history has shown 
again and again. 

There are three indisputable triumphs of mass society we need to acknowledge to 
understand its strength: first, mass production offers relative physical comfort to almost 
all — even the poor have food, shelter, television as a story-teller to raise the illusion of 
community; second, as a byproduct of intense personal surveillance in mass society (to 
provide a steady stream of data to the producing and regulating classes) a large measure 
of personal security is available; third, mass society offers a predictable world, one with 
few surprises — anxieties of uncertainty are replaced in mass society with a rise in ennui 
and indifference. 

When I first began to write this section, anotherof the long stream of post office massacres of recent years had just taken place in New Jersey. 
Vengeance by a disgruntled employee. In the same state a hospital attendant has been charged with murdering as many as a hundred of his 
patients by lethal injection, also a more common occurrence than we want to imagine, and two rich boys at Columbine High School in 
Littleton, Colorado, the site of a much-boasted-of scientific management revolution in 1994, had shot and killed thirteen of their classmates 
before taking their own lives. Human variation cannot be pent up for long in enormous synthetic systems without striving to somehow assert 
the "I" of things. Massified populations cannot exercise self-control very well since they depend on constant oversight to behave as required. 
When external controls are removed, anything becomes possible. 

German Mind Science 

Back at the beginning of the nineteenth century, wise men and women, honorable 
individuals themselves, came with sadness to realize that for all the foreseeable future, 
more and more ordinary people would need to give their entire lives to a dark hole in the 
ground or in service to a mind-destroying machine if a coal-fired dream world was to 
happen. People who grew up in the clean air and the folk society of villages did not make 
good workers for the screaming factories or the tunnels underground, or the anthill 

What was needed was some kind of halfway house that would train individuals for the 
halfway lives ordinary people would be more and more called upon to lead. In a Utopia of 
machinery and steam, there could be free lunch for unprecedented numbers — but only if 
there were chains, bread, and water for the rest, at least for some unknown while. Plans 
for such a halfway institution as forced schooling (think of it as a training factory or a 
training mine) came together in Boston, Philadelphia, and New York, drawn by the best 
minds, for the best motives. They inflicted stupendous damage on the libertarian rights 
and privileges bequeathed to Americans by the nation's founders. 

Profits from the industrial engine signed the checks for many nineteenth-century 
educational experiments like New Lanark in Scotland and New Harmony in Indiana. 
They bought Fanny Wright her school advocacy platform and helped her impose it on the 
Philadelphia Workingman's Party agenda in 1829. Many of the nineteenth-century 
experimental social colonies looked upon themselves as early emanations of Utopia, 
previews whispering to men and women what might be, if only they turned their backs on 

the past and schooled for a new day. The brevity of these experiments did nothing to 
discourage their successors. 

The coal of Westphalia in association with the iron of Lorraine welded the scattered 
states of Germany into a ferocious Utopian empire in the last half of the nineteenth 
century. That empire, birthplace of successful, mass forced schooling, made war upon the 
world, spreading its conception of research universities and its Spartan state philosophy 
of universal indoctrination and subordination all over the planet. In 1868, Japan adopted 
large parts of the Prussian constitution together with the Prussian style of schooling. The 
garment that coal fashioned for Aryan children was worn enthusiastically by coal-free 
Nipponese as their own. 

German mental science came to rule the classrooms of the world in the early twentieth 
century, nowhere more thoroughly than in coal-rich and oil-rich America. America 
provided a perch from which to study people closely and resources with which to find 
ways to bring them into compliance. Even without intense ideological motivation driving 
the project, the prospect of a reliable domestic market which could be milked in 
perpetuity would have been incentive enough to propel the school project, I believe. 

These new studies growing out of the coal-swollen ranks of leisured academic lives 
suggested there should be radical changes in the mental diet of children. A plan emerged 
piecemeal in these years to be slowly inserted into national schooling. Seen from a 
distance a century later, it is possible to discern the still shimmering outline of a powerful 
strategy drawing together at least ten elements: 

1. Removal of the active literacies of writing and speaking which enable individuals 
to link up with and to persuade others. 

2. Destruction of the narrative of American history connecting the arguments of the 
Founding Fathers to historical events, definingwhat makes Americans different 
from others besides wealth. 

3. Substitution of a historical "social studies" catalogue of facts in place of historical 

4. Radical dilution of the academic content of formal curriculum which familiarized 
students with serious literature, philosophy, theology, etc. This has the effect of 
curtailing any serious inquiries into economics, politics, or religion. 

5. Replacement of academics with a balanced-diet concept of "humanities," physical 
education, counseling, etc., as substance of the school day. 

6. Obfuscation or outright denial of the simple, code-cracking drills which allow 
fluency in reading to anyone. 

7. The confinement of tractable and intractable students together in small rooms. In 
effect this is a leveling exercise with predictable (and pernicious) results. A 

deliberate contradiction of common-sense principles, rhetorically justified on the 
grounds of psychological and social necessity. 

8. Enlargement of the school day and year to blot up outside opportunities to acquire 
useful knowledge leading to independent livelihoods; the insertion of misleading 
surrogates for this knowledge in the form of "shop" classes which actually teach 
little of skilled crafts. 

9. Shifting of oversight from those who have the greatest personal stake in student 
development — parents, community leaders, and the students themselves — to a 
ladder of strangers progressively more remote from local reality. All school 
transactions to be ultimately monitored by an absolute abstraction, the 
"standardized" test, correlating with nothing real and very easily rigged to 
produce whatever results are called for. 

10. Relentless low-level hostility toward religious interpretations of meaning. 

There you have the brilliant formula used to create a coal-fired mass mind. 

Before his sudden death, I watched my beloved bachelor friend and long-time fellow 
schoolteacher Martin Wallach slowly surrender to forces of massification he had long 
resisted. One day in his late fifties he said, "There isn't any reason to go out anymore. 
They send food in; I have three hundred channels. Everything is on TV. I couldn't see it 
all if I had two lifetimes. With my telephone and modem I can get anything. Even girls. 
There's only trouble outside anyway." He fell dead a year later taking out his garbage. 

Welcome to Utopia. We don't pray or pledge allegiance to anything here, but condoms 
and Ritalin are free for the asking. 

Rest in peace, Martin. 

Chapter Nine 

The Cult of Scientific Management 

On the night of June 9, 1834, a group of prominent men "chiefly engaged in commerce" 
gathered privately in a Boston drawing room to discuss a scheme of universal schooling. 
Secretary of this meeting was William Ellery Channing, Horace Mann 's own minister as 
well as an international figure and the leading Unitarian of his day. The location of the 
meeting house is not entered in the minutes nor are the names of the assembly 's 
participants apart from Channing. Even though the literacy rate in Massachusetts was 98 
percent, and in neighboring Connecticut, 99.8 percent, the assembled businessmen 
agreed the present system of schooling allowed too much to depend upon chance. It 
encouraged more entrepreneurial exuberance than the social system could bear. 

— The minutes of this meeting are Appleton Papers collection, Massachusetts Historical 

Frederick W. Taylor 

The first man on record to perceive how much additional production could be extracted 
from close regulation of labor was Frederick Winslow Taylor, son of a wealthy 
Philadelphia lawyer. "What I demand of the worker," Taylor said, "is not to produce any 
longer by his own initiative, but to execute punctiliously the orders given down to their 
minutest details." 

The Taylors, a prominent Quaker family from Germantown, Pennsylvania, had taken 
Freddy to Europe for three years from 1869 to 1872, where he was attending an 
aristocratic German academy when von Moltke's Prussian blitzkrieg culminated in the 
French disaster at Sedan and a German Empire was finally proclaimed, ending a thousand 
years of disunion. Prussian schooling was the widely credited forge which made those 
miracles possible. The jubilation which spread through Germany underlined a 
presumably fatal difference between political systems which disciplined with ruthless 
efficiency, like Prussia's socialist paradise, and those devoted to whimsy and luxury, like 
France's. The lesson wasn't lost on little Fred. 

Near the conclusion of his Principles of Scientific Management '(1911), published thirty- 
nine years later, Taylor summarized the new managerial discipline as follows: 

1 . A regimen of science, not rule of thumb. 

2. An emphasis on harmony, not the discord of competition. 

3. An insistence on cooperation, not individualism. 

4. A fixation on maximum output. 

5. The development of each man to his greatest productivity. 

Taylor's biographers, Wrege and Greenwood, wrote: 

He left us a great legacy. Frederick Taylor advanced a total system of management, one 
which he built from pieces taken from numerous others whom he rarely would credit.... 
His genius lies in being a missionary. 

After Taylor's death in 1915, the Frederick W. Taylor Cooperators were formed to 
project his Scientific Management movement into the future. Frank Copley called Taylor 
"a man whose heart was aflame with missionary zeal." Much about this Quaker-turned- 
Unitarian, who married into an Arbella-descended Puritan family before finally becoming 
an Episcopalian, bears decisively on the shape schooling took in this country. Wrege and 
Greenwood describe him as: "often arrogant, somewhat caustic, and inflexible in how his 
system should be implemented.... Taylor was cerebral; like a machine he was polished and 
he was also intellectual. ...Taylor's brilliant reasoning was marred when he attempted to 
articulate it, for his delivery was often demeaning, even derogatory at times." 

Frank Gilbreth's 2 Motion Study says: 

It is the never ceasing marvel concerning this man that age cannot wither nor custom 
stale his work. After many a weary day's study the investigator awakes from a dream of 
greatness to find he has only worked out a new proof for a problem Taylor has already 
solved. Time study, the instruction card, functional foremanship, the differential rate 
piece method of compensation, and numerous other scientifically derived methods of 
decreasing costs and increasing output and wages — these are by no means his only 
contributions to standardizing the trades. 

To fully grasp the effect of Taylor's industrial evangelism on American national 
schooling, you need to listen to him play teacher in his own words to Schmidt at 
Bethlehem Steel in the 1890s: 

Now Schmidt, you are a first-class pig-iron handler and know your business well. You 
have been handling at a rate of twelve and a half tons per day. I have given considerable 
study to handling pig-iron, and feel you could handle forty-seven tons of pig-iron per day 
if you really tried instead of twelve and a half tons. 

Skeptical but willing, Schmidt started to work, and all day long, and at regular intervals, 
was told by the men who stood over him with a watch, "now pick up a pig and walk. 
Now sit down and rest. Now walk — rest," etc. He worked when he was told to work, and 
rested when he was told to rest, and at half past five in the afternoon had his forty-seven 
tons loaded on the car. 

The incident described above is, incidentally, a fabrication. There was no Schmidt except 
in Taylor's mind, just as there was no close observation of Prussian schools by Mann. 
Below, he testifies before Congress in 1912: 

There is a right way of forcing the shovel into materials and many wrong ways. Now, the 
way to shovel refractory stuff is to press the forearm hard against the upper part of the 
right leg just below the thigh, like this, take the end of the shovel in your right hand and 
when you push the shovel into the pile, instead of using the muscular effort of the arms, 
which is tiresome, throw the weight of your body on the shovel like this; that pushes your 
shovel in the pile with hardly any exertion and without tiring the arms in the least. 

Harlow Person called Taylor's approach to the simplest tasks of working life "a 
meaningful and fundamental break with the past." Scientific management, or Taylorism, 
had four characteristics designed to make the worker "an interchangeable part of an 
interchangeable machine making interchangeable parts." 

Since each quickly found its analogue in scientific schooling, let me show them to you: 3 
1) A mechanically controlled work pace; 2) The repetition of simple motions; 3) Tools 
and technique selected for the worker; 4) Only superficial attention is asked from the 
worker, just enough to keep up with the moving line. The connection of all to school 
procedure is apparent. 

"In the past," Taylor wrote, "Man has been first. In the future the system must be first." It 
was not sufficient to have physical movements standardized; the standardized worker 
"must be happy in his work," too, therefore his thought processes also must be 
standardized. 4 Scientific management was applied wholesale in American industry in the 
decade after 1910. It spread quickly to schools. 

In the preface to the classic study on the effects of scientific management on schooling in 
America, Education and the Cult of Efficiency, 5 Raymond Callahan explains that when he 
set out to write, his intent was to explore the origin and development of business values 
in educational administration, an occurrence he tracks to about 1900. Callahan wanted to 
know why school administrators had adopted business practices and management 
parameters of assessment when "Education is not a business. The school is not a factory." 

Could the inappropriate procedure be explained simply by a familiar process in which 
ideas and values flow from high-status groups to those of lesser distinction? As Callahan 
put it, "It does not take profound knowledge of American education to know that 
educators are, and have been, a relatively low-status, low-power group." But the degree 
of intellectual domination shocked him: 

What was unexpected was the extent, not only of the power of business-industrial groups, 
but of the strength of the business ideology... and the extreme weakness and vulnerability 
of school administrators. I had expected more professional autonomy and I was 
completely unprepared for the extent and degree of capitulation by administrators to 
whatever demands were made upon them. I was surprised and then dismayed to learn 
how many decisions they made or were forced to make, not on educational grounds, but 
as a means of appeasing their critics in order to maintain their positions in the school, 
[emphasis added] 

The actual term "scientific management" was created by famous lawyer Louis Brandeis in 1910 for the Interstate Commerce Commission rate 
hearings. Brandeis understood thoroughly how a clever phrase could control public imagination. 

"Gilbreth, the man who made the term "industrial engineering" familiar to the public, was a devotee ofTaylorism. His daughter wrote a best 
seller about the Gilbreth home, Cheaper By The Dozen, in which her father's penchant for refining work processes is recalled. Behind his back, 
Taylor ran Gilbreth down as a "fakir." 

List adapted from Melvin Kranzberg and Joseph Gies, By the Sweat of Thy Brow. 

Taylor was no garden-variety fanatic. He won the national doubles tennis title in 1881 with a racket of his own design, and pioneered slip-on 
shoes (to save time, of course). Being happy in your work was the demand of Bellamy and other leading socialist thinkers, otherwise you 
would have to be "adjusted" (hence the expression "well- adjusted"). Taylor concurred. 

5 Callahan , s analysis why schoolmen are always vulnerable is somewhat innocent and ivory tower, and his recommendation for reform — to 
effectively protect their revenue stream from criticism on the part of the public — is simply tragic; but his gathering of data is matchless and his 
judgment throughout in small matters and large is consistently illuminating. 

The Adoption Of Business Organization By Schools 

In 1903, The Atlantic Monthly called for adoption of business organization by schools 
and William C. Bagley identified the ideal teacher as one who would rigidly "hew to the 
line." Bagley's" ideal school was a place strictly reduced to rigid routine; he repeatedly 
stressed in his writing a need for "unquestioned obedience." 

Before 1900, school boards were large, clumsy organizations, with a seat available to 
represent every interest (they often had thirty to fifty members). A great transformation 
was engineered in the first decade of the twentieth century, however, and after 1910 they 
were dominated by businessmen, lawyers, real estate men, and politicians. Business 
pressure extended from the kindergarten rung of the new school ladder all the way into 
the German-inspired teacher training schools. The Atlantic Monthly approved what it had 
earlier asked for, saying in 1910, "Our universities are beginning to run as business 

Successful industrial leaders were featured regularly in the press, holding forth on their 
success but seldom attributing it to book learning or scholarship. Carnegie, self-educated 
in libraries, appears in his writings and public appearances as the leading school critic of 
the day; echoing Carnegie, the governor of Michigan welcomed an NEA convention to 
Detroit with his injunction: "The demand of the age is for practical education." The State 
Superintendent of Public Instruction in Michigan followed the governor: 

The character of our education must change with the oncoming of the years of this highly 
practical age. We have educated the mind to think and trained the vocal organs to express 
the thought, and we have forgotten the fact that in four times out of five the practical man 
expresses his thought by the hand rather than by mere words. 

Something was cooking. The message was clear: academic education had become a 
strange kind of national emergency, just as had been prophesied by the Department of 
Education's Circular of Information in 1871 and 1872. Twenty years later Francis Parker 
praised the elite Committee of Ten under Harvard president Charles Eliot for rejecting 

"tracking," the practice of school class assignment based upon future social destination. 
The committee had come down squarely for common schools, an ideal that Parker said 
was "worth all the pains necessary to produce the report. The conclusion is that there 
should be no such thing as class education." Parker had noticed the start of an attempt to 
provide common people with only partial education. He was relieved it had been turned 
back. Or so he thought. 

The pronouncements of the Committee of Ten turned out to be the last gasp of the 
common school notion apart from Fourth of July rhetoric. The common school was being 
buried by the determination of new tycoon-class businessmen to see the demise of an 
older democratic-republican order and its dangerous libertarian ideals. If "educators," as 
they were self-consciously beginning to refer to themselves, had any misunderstanding of 
what was expected by 1910, NEA meetings of that year were specifically designed to 
clear them up. Attendees were told the business community had judged their work to date 
to be "theoretical, visionary, and impractical": 

All over the country our courses are being attacked and the demand for revision is along 
the line of fitting mathematical teaching to the needs of the masses. 

In 1909, Leonard Ayres charged in Laggards in Our Schools that although these 
institutions were filled with "retarded children," school programs were, alas, "fitted.. .to 
the unusually bright one." Ayres invented means for measuring the efficiency of school 
systems by computing the dropout/holdover rate — a game still in evidence today. This 
was begging the question with a vengeance but no challenge to this assessment was ever 

Taylor's system of management efficiency was being formally taught at Harvard and 
Dartmouth by 1910. In the next year, 219 articles on the subject appeared in magazines, 
hundreds more followed: by 1917 a bibliography of 550 school management-science 
references was available from a Boston publisher. As the steel core of school reform, 
scientific management enjoyed national recognition. It was the main topic at the 1913 
convention of the Department of Superintendence. Paul Hanus, professor of education at 
Harvard, launched a series of books for the World Book Company under the title School 
Efficiency Series, and famous muckraker J.M. Rice published his own Scientific 
Management in Education in 1913, showing local "ward" schooling an arena of low-lives 
and grifters. 

Frederick Taylor's influence was not limited to America; it soon circled the globe. 
Principles of Scientific Management spread the efficiency mania over Europe, Japan, and 
China. A letter to the editor of The Nation in 1911 gives the flavor of what was 

I am tired of scientific management, so-called. I have heard of it from scientific 
managers, from university presidents, from casual acquaintances in railway trains; I have 
read of it in the daily papers, the weekly paper, the ten-cent magazine, and in the Outlook. 
I have only missed its treatment by Theodore Roosevelt; but that is probably because I 

cannot keep up with his writings. For 15 years I have been a subscriber to a magazine 
dealing with engineering matters, feeling it incumbent on me to keep in touch but the 
touch has become a pressure, the pressure a crushing strain, until the mass of articles on 
shop practice and scientific management threatened to crush all thought out of my brain, 
and I stopped my subscription. 

In an article from Izvestia dated April 1918, Lenin urged the system upon Russians. 

His jargon-enriched Classroom Management (1907) was reprinted thirty times in the next 20 years asa teacher training text. Bagley's 
metaphors drawn from big business can fairly be said to have controlled the pedagogical imagination for the entire twentieth century. 

The Ford System And The Kronstadt Commune 

"An anti-intellectual, a hater of individuals," is the way Richard Stites characterizes 
Taylor in Revolutionary Dreams, his book on the Utopian beginning of the Soviet Era. 
Says Stites, "His system is the basis for virtually every twisted dystopia in our century, 
from death under the Gas Bell in Zamiatin's We for the unspeakable crime of deviance, to 
the maintenance of a fictitious state-operated underground in Orwell's 1984 in order to 
draw deviants into disclosing who they are." 

Oddly enough, an actual scheme of dissident entrapment was the brainchild of J.P. 
Morgan, his unique contribution to the Cecil Rhodes-inspired "Round Table" group. 
Morgan contended that revolution could be subverted permanently by infiltrating the 
underground and subsidizing it. In this way the thinking of the opposition could be 
known as it developed and fatally compromised. Corporate, government, and foundation 
cash grants to subversives might be one way to derail the train of insurrection that 
Hegelian theory predicted would arise against every ruling class. 

As this practice matured, the insights of Fabian socialism were stirred into the mix; 
gradually a socialist leveling through practices pioneered in Bismarck's Prussia came to 
be seen as the most efficient control system for the masses, the bottom 80 percent of the 
population in advanced industrial states. For the rest, an invigorating system of laissez- 
faire market competition would keep the advanced breeding stock on its toes. 

A large portion of the intellectual Left jumped on Taylor's bandwagon, even as labor 
universally opposed it. Lenin himself was an aggressive advocate: 

The war taught us much, not only that people suffered, but especially the fact that those 
who have the best technology, organization, discipline and the best machines emerge on 
top; it is this the war has taught us. It is essential to learn that without machines, without 
discipline, it is impossible to live in modern society. It is necessary to master the highest 
technology or be crushed. 

But even in Russia, workers resisted Taylorish methods. The rebellion of the Kronstadt 
Commune in 1921 charged that Bolsheviks were "planning to introduce the sweat labor 
system of Taylor." They were right. 

Taylor distilled the essence of Bismarck's Prussian school training under whose regimen 
he had witnessed firsthand the defeat of France in 1871. His American syntheses of these 
disciplines made him the direct inspiration for Henry Ford and "Fordism." Between 1895 
and 1915, Ford radically transformed factory procedure, relying on Taylorized 
management and a mass production assembly line marked by precision, continuity, 
coordination, speed, and standardization. Ford wrote two extraordinary essays in the 
1920s, "The Meaning of Time, " and "Machinery, The New Messiah, " in which he equated 
planning, timing, precision, and the rest of the scientific management catalogue with the 
great moral meaning of life: 

A clean factory, clean tools, accurate gauges, and precise methods of manufacture 
produce a smooth working efficient machine [just as] clean thinking, clean living, and 
square dealing make for a decent home life. 

By the 1920s, the reality of the Ford system paralleled the rules of a Prussian infantry 
regiment. Both were places where workers were held under close surveillance, kept 
silent, and punished for small infractions. Ford was unmoved by labor complaints. Men 
were disposable cogs in his machine. "A great business is really too big to be human," he 
commented in 1929. Fordism and Taylorism swept the Soviet Union as they had swept 
the United States and Western Europe. By the 1920s the words fordizatsiya and 
teilorizatsiya, both appellations describing good work habits, were common across 

The National Press Attack On Academic Schooling 

In May of 191 1, the first salvo of a sustained national press attack on the academic 
ambitions of public schooling was fired. For the previous ten years the idea of school as 
an oasis of mental development built around a common, high-level curriculum had been 
steadily undermined by the rise of educational psychology and its empty-child/elastic- 
child hypotheses. Psychology was a business from the first, an aggressive business 
lobbying for jobs and school contracts. But resistance of parents, community groups, and 
students themselves to the new psychologized schooling was formidable. 

As the summer of 191 1 approached, the influential Educational Review gave educators 
something grim to muse upon as they prepared to clean out their desks: "Must definite 
reforms with measurable results be foresworn," it asked, "that an antiquated school 
system may grind out useless produce?" The magazine demanded quantifiable proof of 
school's contributions to society — or education should have its budget cut. The article, 
titled "An Economic Measure of School Efficiency," charged that "The advocate of pure 
water or clean streets shows by how much the death rate will be altered with each 
proposed addition to his share of the budget — only a teacher is without such figures." An 
editorial in Ladies Home Journal reported that dissatisfaction with schools was 

increasing, claiming "On every hand signs are evident of a widely growing distrust of the 
effectiveness of the present educational system..." In Providence, the school board was 
criticized by the local press for declaring a holiday on the Monday preceding Decoration 
Day to allow a four-day vacation. "This cost the public $5,000 in loss of possible returns 
on the money invested," readers were informed. 

Suddenly school critics were everywhere. A major assault was mounted in two popular 
journals, Saturday Evening Post and Ladies Home Journal, with millions each in 
circulation, both read by leaders of the middle classes. The Post sounded the anti- 
intellectual theme this way: 

"Miltonized, Chaucerized, Vergilized, Shillered, physicked and chemicaled, the high 
school.... should be of no use in the world — particularly the business world." 

Three heavy punches in succession came from Ladies Home Journal: "The case of 
Seventeen Million Children — Is Our Public-School System Providing an Utter Failure?" 
This declaration would seem difficult to top, but the second article did just that: "Is the 
Public School a Failure? It Is: The Most Momentous Failure in Our American Life 
Today." And a third, written by the principal of a New York City high school, went even 
further. Entitled "The Danger of Running a Fool Factory," it made this point: that 
education is "permeated with errors and hypocrisy," while the Dean of Columbia 
Teachers College, James E. Russell added that "If school cannot be made to drop its 
mental development obsession the whole system should be abolished." [emphasis mine] 

The Fabian Spirit 

To speak of scientific management in school and society without crediting the influence 
of the Fabians would do great disservice to truth, but the nature of Fabianism is so 
complex it raises questions this essay cannot answer. To deal with the Fabians in a brief 
compass as I'm going to do is to deal necessarily in simplifications in order to see a little 
how this charming group of scholars, writers, heirs, heiresses, scientists, philosophers, 
bombazines, gazebos, trust-fund babies, and successful men and women of affairs 
became the most potent force in the creation of the modern welfare state, distributors of 
its characteristically dumbed-down version of schooling. Yet pointing only to this often 
frivolous organization's eccentricity would be to disrespect the incredible 
accomplishments of Beatrice Webb and her associates, and their decisive effort on 
schooling. Mrs. Webb is the only woman ever deemed worthy of burial in Westminster 

What nineteenth-century Transcendentalists and Muggletonians hoped to be in reordering 
the triumvirate of society, school, and family, twentieth-century Fabians actually were. 
Although far from the only potent organization working behind the scenes to radically 
reshape domestic and international life, it would not be too far out of line to call the 
twentieth century the Fabian century. One thing is certain: the direction of modern 
schooling for the bottom 90 percent of our society has followed a largely Fabian design — 
and the puzzling security and prestige enjoyed at the moment by those who speak of 

"globalism" and "multiculturalism" are a direct result of heed paid earlier to Fabian 
prophecies that a welfare state, followed by an intense focus on internationalism, would 
be the mechanism elevating corporate society over political society, and a necessary 
precursor to Utopia. Fabian theory is the Das Kapital of financial capitalism. 

Fabianism always floated above simplistic politics, seeking to preempt both sides. The 
British Labour Party and its post- WWII welfare state are Fabianism made visible. This is 
well understood; not so easily comprehended are signs of an aristocratic temper — like 
this little anti-meritocractic Fabian gem found in a report of the British College of 

Medicine would lose immeasurably if the proportion of such students [from upper-class 
and upper-middle-class homes] were to be reduced in favour of precocious children who 
qualify for subsidies [i.e., scholarship students]. 

Even though meritocracy is their reliable cover, social stratification was always the 
Fabian's real trump suit. Entitlements are another Fabian insertion into the social fabric, 
even though the idea antedates them, of course. 

To realize the tremendous task Fabians originally assigned themselves (a significant part 
of which was given to schooling to perform), we need to reflect again on Darwin's 
shattering books, The Origin of Species (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871), each 
arguing in its own way that far from being blank slates, children are written upon 
indelibly by their race of origin, some "favored" in Darwin's language, some not. A 
powerful public relations initiative of recent years has attempted to separate Darwin from 
"social Darwinism," but it cannot be done because Darwin himself is the prototypical 
social Darwinist. Both books taken together issued a license for liberal upper classes to 
justify forced schooling. From an evolutionary perspective, schools are the indoctrination 
phase of a gigantic breeding experiment. Working-class fantasies of "self-improvement" 
were dismissed from the start as sentimentality that evolutionary theory had no place for. 

What Darwin accomplished with his books was a freeing of discussion from the narrow 
straitj acket it had worn when society was considered a matter of internal associations and 
relationships. Darwin made it possible to consider political affairs as a prime instrument 
of social evolution. Here was a pivotal moment in Western thought, a changing of the 
guard in which secular purpose replaced religious purpose, long before trashed by the 

For the poor, the working classes, and middle classes in the American sense, 7 this change 
in outlook, lauded by the most influential minds of the nineteenth century, was a 
catastrophe of titanic proportions, especially for government schoolchildren. Children 
could no longer simply be parents' darlings. Many were (biologically) a racial menace. 
The rest had to be thought of as soldiers in genetic combat, the moral equivalent of war. 
For all but a relative handful of favored families, aspiration was off the board as a 
scientific proposition. 

For governments, children could no longer be considered individuals but were regarded 
as categories, rungs on a biological ladder. Evolutionary science pronounced the majority 
useless mouths waiting for nature to dispense with entirely. Nature (as expressed through 
her human agents) was to be understood not as cruel or oppressive but beautifully, 
functionally purposeful — a neo-pagan perspective to be reflected in the organization and 
administration of schools. 

Three distinct and conflicting tendencies competed in the nineteenth-century theory of 
society: first was the empirical tendency stemming from John Locke and David Hume 
which led to that outlook on the study of society we call pragmatism, and eventually to 
behavioristic psychology; the second line descended from Immanuel Kant, Hegel, 
Savigny, and others and led to the organic theory of the modern state, the preferred 
metaphor of Fabians (and many later systems theorists); the third outlook comes to us out 
of Rousseau, Diderot, d'Alembert, Bentham, the Mills, and leads almost directly to the 
utilitarian state of Marxist socialism. Each of these postures was savagely assailed over 
time by the development of academic Darwinism. After Darwin, Utopia as a human- 
friendly place dies an agonizing death. The last conception of Utopia after Darwin which 
isn't some kind of hellish nightmare is William Morris' News from Nowhere. 

With only niggling reservations, the Fabian brain trust had no difficulty employing force 
to shape recalcitrant individuals, groups, and organizations. Force in the absence of 
divine injunctions is a tool to be employed unsentimentally. Fabian George Bernard 
Shaw established the principle wittily in 1920 when he said that under a Fabian future 

You would not be allowed to be poor. You would be forcibly fed, clothed, lodged, taught, 
and employed whether you like it or not. If it were discovered that you have not character 
and industry, you might possibly be executed in a kindly manner. 
- The Intelligent Woman 's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism 

Fabianism came into existence around the year 1884, taking its name from Roman 
general Fabius Cunctator 8 who preserved the Roman state by defeating Hannibal, 
chipping away at Hannibal's patience and will to win by avoiding combat. Darwin was 
the weird holy man Fabians adored, the man who gave them their principle, a theory 
inspirationally equal to god-theory, around which a new organization of society could be 

Society, after Darwin, was incontrovertibly about good breeding. That was the only true 
goal it had, or scientifically could have. Before Darwin, the view of historical 
development which fit best with Anglo/ American tradition was a conception of 
individual rights independent of any theory of reciprocal obligations to the State; the duty 
of leaders was to Society, not to Government, a crucial distinction in perfect harmony 
with the teachings of Reformation Christianity, which extended to all believers a 
conception of individual duty, individual responsibility, and a free will right to decide for 
oneself beyond any claims of states. John Calvin proclaimed in his Institutes that through 
natural law, the judgment of conscience alone was able to distinguish between justice and 

injustice. It's hard for secular minds to face, but the powerful freedoms of the West, 
unmatched by any other society at any other time, are rooted deeply in a religion so 
radical, so demanding it revolts the modern temper. 

For Protestant Christians, salvation was uniquely a matter between God and the 
individual. The mind of northern Europe had for centuries been fixed on the task of 
winning liberties for the individual against the State. Notable individual freedoms were 
taken from the State beginning symbolically at Runnemede' in 1215. By 1859, six and a 
half centuries later, in the Age of Darwin, individual rights were everywhere in the 
Anglo-Saxon world understood to transcend theories of obligation to the State. Herbert 
Spencer embodies this attitude, albeit ambiguously. For Spencer, Darwinian evolution 
promised rights only to the strong. It is well to keep in mind that his brief for liberty 
masks a rigorously exclusionary philosophy, particularly when he sounds most like 
Thomas Paine. The first and second amendments of our own constitution illustrate just 
how far this freedom process could carry. Say what you please before God and Man; 
protect yourself with a gun if need be from government interference. 

Spencer was the reigning British philosopher from 1870 to 1900. In the Westminster 
Review of January 1860, he wrote: "The welfare of citizens cannot rightly be sacrificed to 
some supposed benefit of the State, the State is to be maintained solely for the benefit of 
citizens. 10 The corporate life in society must be subservient to the lives of its parts, instead 
of the lives of the parts being subservient to the corporate life." Spencer had an even 
greater vogue in America, influencing every intellectual from Walt Whitman to John 
Dewey and becoming the darling of corporate business. Early in 1882 a grand dinner was 
held in his honor by the great and powerful who gathered to hear scientific proof of 
Anglo-Saxon fitness for rule — and a brief for moral relativism. This dinner and its 
implications set the standard for twentieth-century management, including the 
management of schooling. A clear appraisal of the fateful meal and its resonance is given 
in E. Digby Baltzell's The Protestant Establishment, a well-bred look at the resurgence of 
the Anglican outlook in America. 

This attitude constituted a violent contradiction of German strong-state, state-as-first- 
parent doctrine which held that interests of the individual as individual are without 
significance. But derogation of individual rights was entirely consistent with Darwinian 
science. The German authoritarian preference received an invigorating restorative with 
Darwin's advent. Natural selection, the operational principle of Darwinism, was held to 
reach individuals only indirectly — through the action of society. Hence society becomes a 
natural subject for regulation and intervention by the State. 

To illustrate how reverberant a drum the innocent-sounding locution "natural selection" 11 
can really be, translated into social practice, try to imagine how denial of black dignities 
and rights and the corresponding degradation of black family relationships in America 
because of this denial, might well be reckoned an evolutionarily /wszYzve course, in 
Darwinian terms. By discouraging Negro breeding, eventually the numbers of this most 
disfavored race would diminish. The state not only had a vested interest in becoming an 
active agent of evolution, it could not help but become one, willy-nilly. Fabians set out to 

write a sensible evolutionary agenda when they entered the political arena. Once this 
biopolitical connection is recognized, the past, present, and future of this seemingly 
bumbling movement takes on a formidable coherence. Under the dottiness, lovability, 
intelligence, high social position, and genuine goodness of some of their works, the 
system held out as humanitarian by Fabians is grotesquely deceptive; in reality, Fabian 
compassion masks a real aloofness to humanity. It is purely an intellectual project in 
scientific management. 

Thomas Davidson's History of Education seen through this lens transmutes in front of 
our eyes from the harmlessly addled excursion into romantic futurism it seems to be into 
a manual of frightening strategic goals and tactical methods. Fabians emerged in the first 
years of the twentieth century as great champions of social efficiency in the name of the 
evolutionary destiny of the race. This infused a powerful secular theology into the 
movement, allowing its members to revel privately in an ennobling destiny. The Fabian 
program spread quickly through the best colleges and universities under many different 
names, multiplying its de facto membership among young men and women blissfully 
unaware of their induction. They were only being modern. H.G. Wells called it "the open 
conspiracy" in an essay bearing the same title, and worth your time to track down. 

As the movement developed, Fabians became aristocratic friends of other social- 
efficiency vanguards like Taylorism or allies of the Methodist social gospel crowd of 
liberal Christian religionists busy substituting Works for Faith in one of the most 
noteworthy religious reversals of all time. Especially, they became friends and advisors 
of industrialists and financiers, travelers in the same direction. This cross-fertilization 
occurred naturally, not out of petty motives of profit, but because by Fabian lights 
evolution had progressed furthest among the international business and banking classes! 

These laughing gentry were impressively effective at whatever they turned their hands to 
because they understood principles of social leverage. Kitty Muggeridge writes: 

If you want to pinpoint the moment in time when the very first foundation of the Welfare 
State was laid, a reasonable date to choose would be the last fortnight of November in 
1905 when Beatrice Webb was appointed to the Royal Commission on the Poor Law, and 
she convinced her protege, Albert Beveridge, to join a committee for dealing with 

During Mrs. Webb's tenure on the Royal Commission, she laid down the first blueprint 
of cradle-to-grave social security to eradicate poverty "without toppling the whole social 
structure." She lived to see Beveridge promulgate her major ideas in the historic 
Beveridge Report, from which they were brought to life in post- WWII Britain and the 
United States. 

Fabian practitioners developed Hegelian principles which they co-taught alongside 
Morgan bankers and other important financial allies over the first half of the twentieth 
century. One insightful Hegelianism was that to push ideas efficiently it was necessary 
first to co-opt both political Left and political Right. Adversarial politics — competition — 

was a loser's game. 12 By infiltrating all major media, by continual low-intensity 
propaganda, by massive changes in group orientations (accomplished through principles 
developed in the psychological- warfare bureaus of the military), and with the ability, 
using government intelligence agents and press contacts, to induce a succession of crises, 
they accomplished that astonishing feat. 

In the British sense, middle classes are a buffer protecting elites from the poor; our own statistical income-based designation leads to a more 
eclectic composition, and to somewhat less predictability of attitudes and values. 

'The origins are disputed but it was an offshoot of Thomas Davidson's Utopian group in New York, "The Fellowship of the New Life" — an 
American export to Britain, not the other way around. The reader should be warned I use the term "Fabian" more indiscriminately with less 
concern for actual affiliation through the rest of the book than I do here. Fabianism was a Zeitgeist as well as a literal association, and thousands 
of twentieth-century influentials have been Fabians who might be uncomfortable around its flesh and blood adherents, or who would be 
puzzled by the label. 

The spelling preferred by baronial descendants of the actual event. See Chapter Twelve. 

Contrast this with John F. Kennedy's "Ask not what your country cando for you but what you can do foryour country" Inaugural of 1960 
which measured the distance we had retreated since the Civil War. It's useful to remember, however, that Spencer reserved these feelings only 
for the Elect. 

In 1900, Sidney Sherwood of Johns Hopkins University joined a host of prominent organizations and men like Andrew Carnegie in declaring 
the emergence of the corporate system as the highest stage in evolution. Sherwood suggested the modern corporation's historic task was to sort 
out "genius," to get rid of "the weak." This elimination is "the real function of the trust," and the formation of monopoly control is "natural 
selection of the highest order. " Try to imagine how this outlook played out in corporate schooling. 

l2 The most dramatic example of abandoning competition and replacing it with cooperation was the breath-taking monopolization of first the 
nation's, then the world's oil supply by Standard Oil under the personal direction of John D. Rockefeller Sr. Rockefeller despised the 
competitive marketplace, as did his fellow titans of finance and industry, J. P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie. Rockefeller's negotiating team 
was instructed to accommodate any company willing to enter his cartel, to destroy any that resisted. 

The Open Conspiracy 

When I speak of Fabianism, or of any particular Fabians, actual or virtual like Kurt 
Lewin, once head of Britain's Psychological Warfare Bureau, or R.D. Laing, once staff 
psychologist at the Tavistock Institute, I have no interest in mounting a polemic against 
this particular conceit of the comfortable intelligentsia. Fabian strategy and tactics have 
been openly announced and discussed with clarity for nearly a century, whether identified 
as Fabian or not. Nothing illegal about it. I do think it a tragedy, however, that 
government school children are left in the dark about the existence of influential groups 
with complex social agendas aimed at their lives. 

I've neglected to tell you so far about the role stress plays in Fabian evolutionary theory. 
Just as Hegel taught that history moves faster toward its conclusion by way of warfare, so 
evolutionary socialists were taught by Hegel to see struggle as the precipitant of 
evolutionary improvement for the species, a necessary purifier eliminating the weak from 
the breeding sweepstakes. Society evolves slowly toward "social efficiency" all by itself; 
society under stress, however, evolves much faster! Thus the deliberate creation of crisis 
is an important tool of evolutionary socialists. Does that help you understand the 
government school drama a little better, or the well-publicized doomsday scenarios of 

The London School of Economics is a Fabian creation. Mick Jagger spent time there; so 
did John F. Kennedy. Once elitist, the Economist, now a worldwide pop-intellectual 
publication, is Fabian, as is The New Statesman and Ruskin Labor College of Oxford. 
The legendary Royal Institute of International Affairs and the Tavistock Institute for 
Human Relations, premier mind- bending institutions of the world, are Fabian. Theodor 
Adorno, an important if barely visible avatar of the therapeutic state, and a one-time 
eminence at Tavistock, traveled the Fabian road as well. 

You needn't carry a card or even have heard the name Fabian to follow the wolf-in- 
sheep's-clothing flag. Fabianism is mainly a value-system with progressive objectives. Its 
social club aspect isn't for coalminers, farmers, or steam-fitters. We've all been exposed 
to many details of the Fabian program without realizing it. In the United States, some 
organizations heavily influenced by Fabianism are the Ford Foundation, the Russell Sage 
Foundation, the Stanford Research Institute, the Carnegie Endowments, the Aspen 
Institute, the Wharton School, and RAND. And this short list is illustrative, not complete. 
Tavistock underwrites or has intimate relations with thirty research institutions in the 
United States, all which at one time or another have taken a player's hand in the shaping 
of American schooling. 

Once again, you need to remember we aren't conspiracy hunting but tracking an idea, 
like microchipping an eel to see what holes it swims into in case we want to catch it later 
on. H.G. Wells, best known of all early Fabians, once wrote of the Fabian project: 

The political world of the Open Conspiracy must weaken, efface, incorporate and 
supersede existing governments.... The character of the Open Conspiracy will then be 
plainly displayed. It will be a world religion. This large, loose assimilatory mass of 
groups and societies will definitely and obviously attempt to swallow up the entire 
population of the world and become a new human community.... The immediate task 
before all people, a planned World State, is appearing at a thousand points of light 
[but]... generations of propaganda and education may have to precede it. (emphasis added) 

Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote his famous signature book "Between Two Ages: America's 
Role in the Technetronic Era" in 1970, a piece reeking with Fabianisms: dislike of direct 
popular power, relentless advocacy of the right and duty of evolutionarily advanced 
nations to administer less developed parts of the world, revulsion at populist demands for 
"selfish self-government" (homeschooling would be a prime example), and stress on 
collectivism. Brzezinski said in the book: 

It will soon be possible to assert almost continuous control over every citizen and to 
maintain up-to-date files containing even the most personal details about health and 
personal behavior of every citizen, in addition to the more customary data. These files 
will be subject to instantaneous retrieval by the authorities. Power will gravitate into the 
hands of those who control information. 

In his essay, Brzezinski called common people, "an increasingly purposeless mass." And, 
of course, if the army of children collected in mass schooling is really "purposeless," 
what argument says it should exist at all? 

l3 The government-created crisis, masquerading as an unexpected external provocation, is elementary Hegelian strategy. If you want to take 
Texas and California from Mexico, first shoot a few Americans while the press disinforms the nation that Mexican depredations against our 
nationals have to be stopped; if you want Cuba as a satrapy, blow up an American battleship and pin it on the Cubans. By this strategy, a nation 
which has decided to suspend its democratic traditions with a period of martial law (under which permanent social reordering would occur) 
might arrange a series of "terrorist" attacks upon itself which would justify the transformation as a defense of general public safety. 

l4 In the "world peace" phenomenon so necessary to establish a unitary world order lies a real danger, according to evolutionists, of species 
deterioration caused by inadvertent preservation of inferior genes which would otherwise be killed or starved. Hence the urgency of insulating 
superior breeding stock from pollution through various strategies of social segregation. Among these, forced classification through schooling 
has been by far the most important. 

An Everlasting Faith 

Fabianism was a principal force and inspiration behind all major school legislation of the 
first half of the twentieth century. And it will doubtless continue to be in the twenty- first. 
It will help us understand Fabian influence to look at the first Fabian-authored 
consideration of public schooling, the most talked-about education book of 1900, Thomas 
Davidson's peculiar and fantastic History of Education. 

The Dictionary of American Biography describes Davidson as a naturalized Scot, 
American since 1867, and a follower of William Torrey Harris, federal Commissioner of 
Education — the most influential Hegelian in North America. Davidson was also first 
president of the Fabian Society in England, a fact not thought worthy of preservation in 
the biographical dictionary, but otherwise easy enough to confirm. This news is also 
absent from Pelling's America and The British Left, although Davidson is credited there 
with "usurping" the Fabians. 

In his important monograph "Education in the Forming of American Society," Bernard 
Bailyn, as you'll recall, said anyone bold enough to venture a history of American 
schooling would have to explain the sharp disjunction separating these local institutions 
as they existed from 1620 to 1890 from the massification which followed afterwards. In 
presenting his case, Bailyn had cause to compare "two notable books" on the subject 
which both appeared in 1900. One was Davidson's, the other Edward Eggleston's. 

Eggleston's Transit of Civilization Bailyn calls "a remarkably imaginative effort to 
analyze the original investment from which has developed Anglo-Saxon culture in 
America by probing the complex states of knowing and thinking, of feeling and passion 
of the seventeenth century colonists." The opening words of Eggleston's book, said 
Bailyn, make clear the central position of education in early America. Bailyn calls 
Transit "one of the subtlest and most original books ever written on the subject" and "a 
seminal work," but he notes how quickly it was "laid aside by American intelligentsia as 
an oddity, irrelevant to the interests of the group then firmly shaping the historical study 
of American education." 

For that group, the book of books was Davidson's History of Education. William James 
called its author a "knight-errant of the intellectual life," an "exuberant polymath." Bailyn 
agrees that Davidson's "was a remarkable book": 

Davidson starts with "The Rise of Intelligence" when "man first rose above the brute." 
Then he trots briskly through "ancient Turanian," Semitic, and Aryan education, picks up 
speed on "civic education" in Judaea, Greece, and Rome, gallops swiftly across 
Hellenistic, Alexandrian, Patristic, and Muslim education; leaps magnificently over the 
thorny barriers of scholasticism, the mediaeval universities, Renaissance, Reformation, 
and Counter-Reformation, and then plunges wildly through the remaining five centuries 
in sixty- four pages flat. 

It was less the frantic scope than the purpose of this strange philosophical essay that 
distinguished it in the eyes of an influential group of writers. Its purpose was to dignify a 
newly self-conscious profession called Education. Its argument, a heady distillation of 
conclusions from Social Darwinism, claimed that modern education was a cosmic force 
leading mankind to full realization of itself. Davidson's preface puts the intellectual core 
of Fabianism on center stage: 

My endeavor has been to present education as the last and highest form of evolution.... 
By placing education in relation to the whole process of evolution, as its highest form, I 
have hoped to impart to it a dignity which it could hardly otherwise receive or 
claim... when it is recognized to be the highest phase of the world-process. "World 
process" here is an echo of Kant and Hegel, and for the teacher to be the chief agent in 
that process, both it and he assumes a very different aspect. 

Here is the intellectual and emotional antecedent of "creation spirituality," Pierre Teilhard 
de Chardin's assertion that evolution has become a spiritual inevitability in our time. 

Suddenly mere schooling found itself elevated from its petty, despised position on the 
periphery of the known universe into an intimate involvement in the cosmic destiny of 
man, a master key too important to be left to parents. By 1906, Paul Monroe of Teachers 
College could write in his Text-book in the History of Education that knowledge of the 
"purpose of education" was to supply the teacher with "fundamentals of an everlasting 
faith as broad as human nature and as deep as the life of the race." 

This History of Education, according to Bailyn, "came to be taught as an introductory 
course, a form of initiation, in every normal school, department of education, and 
teachers college in the country": 

The story had to be got straight. And so a few of the more imaginative of that energetic 
and able group of men concerned with mapping overall progress of "scientific" education, 
though not otherwise historians, took over the management of the historical work in 
education. With great virtuosity they drew up what became the patristic literature of a 
powerful academic ecclesia. 

The official history of education: 

grew in almost total isolation from the major influences and shaping minds of twentieth- 
century historiography; and its isolation proved to be self-intensifying: the more 
parochial the subject became, the less capable it was of attracting the kinds of scholars 
who could give it broad relevance and bring it back into the public domain. It soon 
displayed the exaggeration of weakness and extravagance of emphasis that are the typical 
results of sustained inbreeding. 

These "educational missionaries" spoke of schools as if they were monasteries. By 
limiting the idea of education to formal school instruction, the public gradually lost sight 
of what the real thing was. The questions these specialists disputed were as irrelevant to 
real people as the disputes of medieval divines; there was about their writing a 
condescension for public concerns, for them "the whole range of education had become 
an instrument of deliberate social purpose." (emphasis added) After 1910, divergence 
between what various publics expected would happen, in government schools and what 
the rapidly expanding school establishment intended to make happen opened a deep gulf 
between home and school, ordinary citizen and policymaker. 

Regulating Lives Like Machinery 

The real explanation for this sudden gulf between NEA policies in 1893 and 1911 had 
nothing to do with intervening feedback from teachers, principals, or superintendents 
about what schools needed; rather, it signaled titanic forces gathering outside the closed 
universe of schooling with the intention of altering this nation's economy, politics, social 
relationships, future direction, and eventually the terms of its national existence, using 
schools as instruments in the work. 

Schoolmen were never invited to the policy table at which momentous decisions were 
made. When Ellwood P. Cubberley began tentatively to raise his voice in protest against 
radical changes being forced upon schools (in his history of education), particularly the 
sudden enforcement of compulsory attendance laws which brought amazing disruption 
into the heretofore well-mannered school world, he quickly pulled back without naming 
the community leaders — as he called them — who gave the actual orders. This evidence of 
impotence documents the pedagogue status of even the most elevated titans of schooling 
like Cubberley. You can find this reference and others like it in Public Education in the 
United States. 

Scientific management was about to merge with systematic schooling in the United 
States; it preferred to steal in silently on little cat's feet, but nobody ever questioned the 
right of businessmen to impose a business philosophy to tamper with children's lives. On 
the cantilever principle of interlocking directorates pioneered by Morgan interests, 
scientific school management flowed into other institutional domains of American life, 
too. According to Taylor, application of mechanical power to production could be 
generalized into every arena of national life, even to the pulpit, certainly to schools. This 
would bring about a realization that people's lives could be regulated very much like 

machinery, without sentiment. Any expenditure of time and energy demanded 
rationalization, whether first-grader or coalminer, behavior should be mathematically 
accounted for following the new statistical procedures of Galton and Karl Pearson. 

The scientific management movement was backed by many international bankers and 
industrialists. In 1905, the vice president of the National City Bank of New York, Frank 
Vanderlip, made his way to the speaker's podium at the National Education Association's 
annual convention to say: 

I am firmly convinced the economic success of Germany can be encompassed in a single 
word — schoolmaster. From the economic point of view the school system of Germany 
stands unparalleled. 

German schools were psychologically managed, ours must be, too. People of substance 
stood, they thought, on the verge of an ultimate secret. How to write upon the empty 
slates of empty children's minds in the dawning era of scientific management. What they 
would write there was a program to make dwarf and fractional human beings, people 
crippled by implanted urges and habits beyond their understanding, men and women who 
cry out to be managed. 

The Gary Plan 

Frederick Taylor's gospel of efficiency demanded complete and intensive use of 
industrial plant facilities. From 1903 onwards, strenuous efforts were made to achieve 
full utilization of space by forcing year-round school on society. Callahan suggests it was 
"the children of America, who would have been unwilling victims of this scheme, who 
played a decisive role in beating the original effort to effect this back." 

But east of Chicago, in the synthetic U.S. Steel company town of Gary, Indiana, 
Superintendent William A. Wirt, a former student of John Dewey's at the University of 
Chicago, was busy testing a radical school innovation called the Gary Plan soon to be 
sprung on the national scene. Wirt had supposedly invented a new organizational scheme 
in which school subjects were departmentalized; this required movement of students 
from room to room on a regular basis so that all building spaces were in constant use. 
Bells would ring and just as with Pavlov's salivating dog, children would shift out of 
their seats and lurch toward yet another class. 

In this way children could be exposed to many nonacademic socialization experiences 
and much scientifically engineered physical activity, and it would be a bonus value from 
the same investment, a curriculum apart from so-called basic subjects which by this time 
were being looked upon as an actual menace to long-range social goals. Wirt called his 
system the "work-study-play" school, but outside of Gary it was referred to simply as 
"the Gary Plan." Its noteworthy economical feature, rigorously scheduling a student body 
twice as large as before into the same space and time, earned it the informal name 
"platoon school." 

While the prototype was being established and tested on children of the new industrial 
proletariat in Gary, the plan itself was merchandised from newsstand, pulpit, and lecture 
circuit, lauded in administrative circles, and soundly praised by first pedagogical couple 
John and Evelyn Dewey in their 1915 book, Schools of Tomorrow. The first inkling Gary 
might be a deliberate stepchild of the scientific management movement occurred in a 
February 1911 article by Wirt for The American School Board Journal, "Scientific 
Management of School Plants." But a more thorough and forceful exposition of its 
provenance was presented in the Elementary School Teacher by John Franklin Bobbit in 
a 1912 piece titled "Elimination of Waste in Education." 

Bobbit said Gary schools were the work of businessmen who understood scientific 
management. Teaching was slated to become a specialized scientific calling conducted by 
pre-approved agents of the central business office. Classroom teachers would teach the 
same thing over and over to groups of traveling children; special subject teachers would 
deliver their special subjects to classes rotating through the building on a precision time 

Early in 1914, the Federal Bureau of Education, then located in the Interior Department, 
strongly endorsed Wirt's system. This led to one of the most dramatic and least-known 
events in twentieth-century school history. In New York City, a spontaneous rebellion 
occurred on the part of the students and parents against extension of the Gary Plan to 
their own city. While the revolt had only short-lived effects, it highlights the 
demoralization of private life occasioned by passing methods of industry off as 

Bobbit was the influential schoolman who reorganized the Los Angeles school curriculum, replacing formal history with "Social Studies." Of 
the Bobbitized set of educational objectives, the five most important were 1) Social intercommunication 2) Maintenance of physical efficiency 
3) Efficient citizenship 4) General social contacts and relationships 5) Leisure occupations. My own favorite is "efficient citizenship," which 
bears rolling around on the point of one's bayonet as the bill is presented for payment. 

The Jewish Student Riots 

Less than three weeks before the mayoral election of 1917, rioting broke out at PS 171, 
an elementary school on Madison Avenue near 103rd Street in New York City which had 
adopted the Gary Plan. About a thousand demonstrators smashed windows, menaced 
passersby, shouted threats, and made school operation impossible. Over the next few 
days newspapers downplayed the riot, marginalizing the rioters as "street corner 
agitators" from Harlem and the Upper East Side, but they were nothing of the sort, being 
mainly immigrant parents. Demonstrations and rioting spread to other Gary Plan schools, 
including high schools where student volunteers were available to join parents on the 
picket line. 

At one place, five thousand children marched. For ten days trouble continued, breaking 
out in first one place then another. Thousands of mothers milled around schools in 
Yorkville, a German immigrant section, and in East Harlem, complaining angrily that 
their children had been put on "half-rations" of education. They meant that mental 

exercise had been removed from the center of things. Riots flared out into Williamsburg 
and Brownsville in the borough of Brooklyn; schools were stoned, police car tires slashed 
by demonstrators. Schools on the Lower East Side and in the Bronx reported trouble also. 

The most notable aspect of this rioting was its source in what today would be the bottom 
of the bell-curve masses. ..and they were complaining that school was too easy! What 
could have possessed recently arrived immigrants to defy their betters? Whatever it was, 
it poisoned the promising political career of mayoral incumbent, John Purroy Mitchel, a 
well-connected, aristocratic young progressive who had been seriously mentioned as 
presidential timber. Although Teddy Roosevelt personally campaigned for him, Mitchel 
lost by a two-to-one margin when election day arrived shortly after the riots were over, 
the disruptions widely credited with bringing Mitchel down. In all, three hundred students 
were arrested, almost all Jewish. I identify their ethnicity because today we don't usually 
expect Jewish kids to get arrested in bulk. 

To understand what was happening requires us to meet an entity calling itself the Public 
Education Association. If we pierce its associational veil, we find that it is made up of 
bankers, society ladies, corporation lawyers and, in general, people with private fortunes 
or access to private fortunes. The PEA announced in 1911 an "urgent need" to transform 
public schools into child welfare agencies, (emphasis added) Shortly afterward, Mitchel, 
a member of the PEA, was elected mayor of New York. Superintendent Wirt in Gary was 
promptly contacted and offered the New York superintendency. He agreed, and the first 
Gary schools opened in New York City in March 1915. 

Bear in mind there was no public debate, no warning of this radical step. Just seventy- 
five days after the Gary trial began, the financial arm of New York City government 
declared it a total success, authorizing conversion of twelve more schools. (The original 
trial had only been for two.) This was done in June at the end of the school year when 
public attention was notoriously low. Then in September of 1915, after a net one hundred 
days of trial, Comptroller Prendergast issued a formal report recommending extension of 
the Gary Plan into all schools of New York City! He further recommended lengthening 
the school day and the school year. 

At the very time this astonishing surprise was being prepared for the children of New 
York City in 1915, a series of highly laudatory articles sprouted like zits all over the 
periodical press calling the Gary Plan the answer to our nation's school prayers. One 
characteristic piece read, "School must fill the vacuum of the home, school must be life 
itself as once the old household was a life itself." (emphasis added) Like Rommel's 
Panzer columns, true believers were on the move. At the same time press agents were 
skillfully manipulating the press, officers of the Rockefeller Foundation, a body which 
supported the Gary Plan wholeheartedly, were appointed without fanfare as members of 
the New York City Board of Education, compliments of Mayor Mitchel. 

Immediately after Prendergast's report appeared calling for total Gary-ization of public 
schooling, a book written by a prominent young protege of John Dewey directed national 
attention to the Gary miracle "where children learn to play and prepare for vocations as 

well as to study abstractions." Titled The Gary Schools, its author, Randolph Bourne, was 
among the most beloved columnists for The New Republic in the days when that 
magazine, product of J. P. Morgan banker Willard Straight's personal patronage, took 
some of its editorial instruction directly from the tables of power in America. 

In light of what happened in 1917, you might find it interesting to have your librarian 
scare up a copy of Bourne's Gary Schools so you can study how a well-orchestrated 
national propaganda campaign can colonize your mind. Even as Bourne's book was 
being read, determined opposition was forming. 

In 1917, in spite of grassroots protest, the elite Public Education Association urged the 
opening of forty-eight more Gary schools (there were by that time thirty-two in 
operation). Whoever was running the timetable on this thing had apparently tired of 
gradualism and was preparing to step from the shadows and open the engine full throttle. 
A letter from the PEA director (New York Times, 27 June, 1917) urged that more Gary 
schools must be opened. An earlier letter by director Nudd struck an even more hysterical 
note: "The situation is acute, no further delay." This Hegelian manufactured crisis was 
used to thaw Board of Estimate recalcitrance, which body voted sufficient funds to 
extend the Gary scheme through the New York City school system. 

School riots followed hard on the heels of that vote. European immigrants, especially 
Jews from Germany (where collectivist thinking in the West had been perfected), knew 
exactly what the scientific Gary Plan would mean to their children. They weren't buying. 
In the fallout from these disturbances, socialite Mitchel was thrown out of office in the 
next election. The Gary schools themselves were dissolved by incoming Mayor Hylan 
who called them "a scheme" of the Rockefeller Foundation: "a system by which 
Rockefellers and their allies hope to educate coming generations in the 'doctrine of 
contentment,' another name for social serfdom." 

The Rockefeller Report 

The Gary tale is a model of how managed school machinery can be geared up in secret 
without public debate to deliver a product parents don't want. Part One of the Gary story 
is the lesson we learned from the impromptu opinion poll of Gary schooling taken by 
housewives and immigrant children, a poll whose results translated into riots. Having 
only their native wit and past experience to guide them, these immigrant parents 
concluded that Gary schools were caste schools. Not what they expected from America. 
They turned to the only weapon at their disposal — disruption — and it worked. They 
shrewdly recognized that boys in elite schools wouldn't tolerate the dumbing down their 
own were being asked to accept. They knew this would close doors of opportunity, not 
open them. 

Some individual comments from parents and principals about Gary are worth preserving: 
"too much play and time-wasting," "they spend all day listening to the phonograph and 
dancing," "they change class every forty minutes, my daughter has to wear her coat 
constantly to keep it from being stolen," "the cult of the easy," "a step backwards in 

human development," "focusing on the group instead of the individual." One principal 
predicted if the plan were kept, retardation would multiply as a result of minimal contact 
between teachers and students. And so it has. 

Part Two of the Gary story is the official Rockefeller report condemning Gary, circulated 
at Rockefeller headquarters in 1916, but not issued until 1918. Why this report was 
suppressed for two years we can only guess. You'll recall Mayor Hylan's charge that the 
Rockefeller Foundation moved heaven and earth to force its Gary Plan on an unwitting 
and unwilling citizenry, using money, position, and influence to such an extent that a 
New York State Senate Resolution of 1916 accused the foundation of moving to gain 
complete control of the New York City Board of Education. Keep in mind that 
Rockefeller people were active in 1915, 1916, and 1917, lobbying to impose a Gary 
destiny on the public schools of New York City even after its own house analyst pointed 
to the intellectual damage these places caused. 

The 1916 analytical report leapfrogged New York City to examine the original schools as 
they functioned back in Gary, Indiana. Written by Abraham Flexner,"' it stated flatly that 
Gary schools were a total failure, "offering insubstantial programs and a general 
atmosphere which habituated students to inferior performance." Flexner's analysis was a 
massive repudiation of John Dewey's shallow Schools of Tomorrow hype for Gary. 

Now we come to the mystery. After this bad idea crashed in New York City in 1917, the 
critical Rockefeller report held in house since 1916 was issued in 1918 to embarrass 
critics who had claimed the whole mess was the idea of the Rockefeller project officers. 
So we know in retrospect that the Rockefeller Foundation was aware of serious 
shortcomings before it used its political muscle to impose Gary on New York. Had the 
Flexner report been offered in a timely fashion before the riots, it would have spelled 
doom for the Gary Plan. Why it wasn't has never been explained. 

The third and final part of the Gary story comes straight out of Weird Tales. In all 
existing accounts of the Gary drama, none mentions the end of Superintendent Wirt's 
career after his New York defeat. Only Diane Ravitch (in The Great School Wars) even 
bothers to track Wirt back home to Gary, where he resumed the superintendency and 
became, she tells us, a "very conservative schoolman" in his later years. Ah, what Ravitch 

The full facts are engrossing: seventeen years after Wirt left New York City, a 
government publication printed the next significant chapter of the Wirt story. Its title: 
Hearings, House Select Committee to Investigate Certain Statements of Dr. William Wirt, 
73rd Congress, 2nd Session, April 10 and 17, 1934. It seems that Dr. Wirt, while in 
Washington to attend a school administrators meeting in 1933, had been invited to an 
elite private dinner party at the home of a high Roosevelt administration official. The 
dinner was attended by well-placed members of the new government, including AA. 
Berle, a famous "inner circle" brain-truster. There, Wirt heard that the Depression was 
being artificially prolonged by credit rigging, until little people and businessmen were 

shaken enough to agree to a plan where government must dominate business and 
commerce in the future! 

All this he testified to before Congress. The transformation was to make government the 
source of long-term capital loans. Control of business would follow. Wirt testified he was 
told Roosevelt was only a puppet; that his hosts had made propaganda a science, that they 
could make newspapers and magazines beg for mercy by taking away much of their 
advertising; that provided they were subservient, leaders of business and labor would be 
silenced by offers of government contracts for materials and services; that colleges and 
schools would be kept in line by promises of federal aid until such time as they were 
under safe control; and that farmers would be managed by letting key operators "get their 
hands in the public trough." 

In the yellow journalism outburst following Wirt's disclosure, Berle admitted everything. 
But he said they were just pulling Wirt's leg! Pulling the leg of the one-time nationally 
acclaimed savior of public education. Time magazine, The New York Times, and other 
major media ridiculed Wirt, effectively silencing him. 

Of Wirt's earlier New York foray into the engineering of young people, New York City 
mayor Hylan was quoted vividly in The New York Times of March 27, 1922: 

The real menace to our republic is this invisible government which like a giant octopus 
sprawls its slimy length over city, state and nation.... It has seized in its tentacles our 
executive officers, our legislative bodies, our schools, our courts, our newspapers, and 
every agency created for the public protection.... To depart from mere generalizations, let 
me say that at the head of this octopus are the Rockefeller Standard Oil interests. 

Like many of the rest of you, I was conditioned early in adult life to avoid conspiracy talk 
and conspiracy takers by the universal scorn heaped upon the introduction of such 
arguments into the discourse. All "responsible" journalistic media, and virtually all of the 
professoriate allowed public access through those media, respond reflexively, and 
negatively, it seems, to any hint of a dark underside to our national life. With that in 
mind, what are we to make of Mayor Hylan's outburst or for that matter, the statements 
of three senators quoted later on this page? 

Don't expect me to answer that question for you. But do take a deep breath and make the 
effort to read Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan, written back in the 17th century but easily 
located in every library of any size in the United States, for some enlightenment in your 

During the crucial years of the school changeover from academic institution to behavioral 
modification instrument, the radical nature of the metamorphosis caught the attention of a 
few national politicians who spoke out, but could never muster enough strength for 
effective opposition. In the Congressional Record of January 26, 1917, for instance, 
Senator Chamberlain of Oregon entered these words: 

They are moving with military precision all along the line to get control of the education 
of the children of the land. 

Senator Poindexter of Washington followed, saying: 

The cult of Rockefeller, the cult of Carnegie... as much to be guarded against in the 
educational system of this country as a particular religious sect. 

And in the same issue, Senator Kenyon of Iowa related: 

There are certain colleges that have sought endowments, and the agent of the Rockefeller 
Foundation or the General Education Board had gone out and examined the curriculum of 
these colleges and compelled certain changes.... 

It seems to me one of the most dangerous things that can go on in a republic is to have an 
institution of this power apparently trying to shape and mold the thought of the young 
people of this country. 

Senator Works of California added: 

These people. ..are attempting to get control of the whole educational work of the country. 

If it interests you, take a look. It's all in the Congressional Record of January 26,1917. 

A man considered the father of twentieth-century American systematic medicine and a longtimeemployee of the Rockefeller Foundation. 

Obstacles On The Road To Centralization 

Three major obstacles stood in the way of the great goal of using American schools to 
realize a scientifically programmed society. The first was the fact that American 
schooling was locally controlled. In 1930, when the massive socializing scheme was 
swinging into high gear, helped substantially by an attention-absorbing depression, this 
nation still had 144,102 local school boards. 17 At least 1.1 million elected citizens of local 
stature made decisions for this country's schools out of their wisdom and experience. Out 
of 70 million adults between the ages of thirty and sixty- five, one in every sixty-three was 
on a school board (thirty years earlier, the figure had been one in twenty). Contrast either 
ratio with today's figure of one in five thousand. 

The first task of scientifically managed schooling was to transfer management from a 
citizen yeomanry to a professional elite under the camouflage of consolidation for 
economy's sake. By 1932, the number of school districts was down to 127,300; by 1937 
to 1 19,018; by 1950 to 83,719; by 1960 to 40,520; by 1970 to 18,000; by 1990 to 15,361. 
Citizen oversight was slowly squeezed out of the school institution, replaced by 
homogeneous managerial oversight, managers screened and trained, watched, loyalty- 

checked by Columbia, Stanford, Chicago, the Cleveland Conference, and similar 
organizations with private agendas for public schooling. 

The second obstacle to an ideological takeover of schools was the historic influence of 
teachers as role models. Old-fashioned teachers had a disturbing proclivity to stress 
development of intellect through difficult reading, heavy writing assignments, and intense 
discussion. The problem of proud and independent teachers was harder to solve than the 
reading problem. As late as 1930 there were still 149,400 one-room/one-teacher schools 
in America, places not only cheap to operate but successful at developing tough-minded, 
independent thinkers. Most of the rest of our schools were small and administrator- free, 
too. The idea of principals who did not teach came very late in the school game in most 
places. The fantastic notion of a parasitic army of assistant principals, coordinators, and 
all the rest of the various familiar specialists of institutional schooling didn't exist at all 
until 1905, except in the speculations of teacher college dreamers. 

Two solutions were proposed around 1903 to suppress teacher influence and make 
instruction teacher-proof. The first was to grow a heretofore unknown administrative 
hierarchy of nonteaching principals, assistant principals, subject coordinators and the rest, 
to drop the teacher's status rank. And if degrading teacher status proved inadequate, 
another weapon, the standardized test, was soon to be available. By displacing the 
judgmental function from a visible teacher to a remote bastion of educational scientists 
somewhere, no mere classroom person could stray very far from approved texts without 
falling test scores among his or her students signaling the presence of such a deviant. 18 
Both these initiatives were underway as WWI ended. 

The third obstacle to effective centralization of management was the intimate 
neighborhood context of most American schools, one where school procedures could 
never escape organic oversight by parents and other local interests. Not a good venue 
from which to orchestrate the undermining of traditional society. James Bryant Conant, 
one of the inventors of the poison gas, Lewisite, and by then chairman of a key Carnegie 
commission, reported in an ongoing national news story after the Sputnik moment that it 
was the small size of our schools causing the problem. Only large schools, said Conant, 
could have faculty and facilities large enough to cover the math and science we 
(presumably) lacked and Russia (presumably) had. The bigger the better. 

In one bold stroke the American factory school of Lancaster days was reborn. Here a de- 
intellectualized Prussian-style curriculum could reign undetected. From 1960 to 1990, 
while student population was increasing 61 percent, the number of school administrators 
grew 342 percent. In constant dollars, costs shot up 331 percent, and teachers, who had 
fallen from 95 percent of all school personnel in 1915 to 70 percent in 1950, now fell still 
further, down and down until recently they comprised less than 50 percent of the jobs in 
the school game. School had become an employment project, the largest hiring hall in the 
world, bigger than agriculture, bigger than armies. 

One other significant set of numbers parallels the absolute growth in the power and 
expense of government schooling, but inversely. In 1960, when these gigantic child 

welfare agencies called schools were just setting out on their enhanced mission, 85 
percent of African American children in New York were from intact, two-parent 
households. In 1990 in New York City, with the school budget drawing $9,300 a kid for 
its social welfare definition of education, that number dropped below 30 percent. School 
and the social work bureaucracies had done their work well, fashioning what looked to be 
a permanent underclass, one stripped of its possibility of escape, turned against itself. 
Scientific management had proven its value, although what that was obviously depended 
on one's perspective. 

1 'Down from 355,000 in 1900. 

ls None of this apparatus of checks and balances ever worked exactly as intended. A degraded, demoralized teaching staff (and even many 
demoralized administrators) lacks interest or even energy to police the system effectively. Gross abuses are legion, the custom almost 
everywhere; records are changed, numbers regularly falsified. A common habit in my day was to fill out phony lunch forms en masse to make 
schools eligible for Title I monies. The chief legal officer for the state of California told me in Sacramento a few years ago that his state was 
unable to effectively monitor the compulsory attendance laws, a truth I can vouch for from firsthand experience. 

Chapter Ten 

The Character of a Village 

Each person in a village has a face and a name, even a nickname. Anonymity is 
impossible, for the villagers are not a mass... a village has its own language, its customs, 
its rhythms... its life is interior.... a village cannot be global. 

— Robert Vachon 

The Character Of A Village 

Before I went to first grade I could add, subtract, and multiply in my head. I knew my 
times tables not as work but as games Dad played on drives around Pittsburgh. Learning 
anything was easy when you felt like it. My father taught me that, not any school. 

When I went to first grade I could read fluently. I loved to read grown-up books I 
selected from the three-level glass-enclosed bookcase behind the front door in Swissvale. 
It held hundreds. I knew if I kept reading, things would eventually come. Mother taught 
me that and she was right. I remember taking down The Decameron time after time, only 
to find its deceptively simple language concealing meanings I couldn't fathom. Each time 
I put the book back I made a mental note to try again next month. And sure enough, one 
month it happened. I was ten. 

My father was a cookie salesman. Mother called him that anyway when she was angry, 
which was often. He had gone to work as a teenager to help support my widowed 
grandmother and to help brother Frank, the smart one, through the University of 
Pittsburgh. Dad never got to college, but he was a genius just the same. Mother went for 
one year, she was a genius, too. They were the kind of people who expose the malice of 
bell curves and rankings for what it is. I miss them both and think of them often with love 
and gratitude. 

Mother I called "Bootie" most of the time because that's what I heard her own mother 
say. Bootie read fairy tales to me in the cradle, she recited poems, she filled my ears and 
eyes with language even though she had little else in the way of things to give. One day 
she bought a set of encyclopedias from a door-to-door salesman that cost more than we 
could afford. I know because she and dad fought when he got home. From then on 
mother read from the encyclopedia every day. We read all the newspapers, too. In those 
days they only cost a couple of cents. I liked the Hearst Sun-Telegraph best because it 
used violent layouts, and on the upper corner of the Sunday edition, a little boy called 
Puck, dressed like a fop, said in a speech balloon, "What fools these mortals be." I didn't 
know what that meant, but I said the words out loud often to punctuate adult conversation 
and always got a smile when I did. 

As far as I can figure, any success I had as a schoolteacher came from what my mother, 
my father, my sister, my family, friends, and town taught, not from a single thing I 
remember about Cornell and Columbia, my two colleges, not from any findings of 
institutes of child study or directives from departments of education. If I'm correct, then 
this insight is more significant than it may appear. The immense edifice of teacher 
instruction and schooling in general rests on the shaky hypothesis that expert intervention 
in childhood produces better people than might otherwise occur. I've come to doubt that. 

A gigantic social investment rides on this hypothesis, one that might otherwise be spent 
on reducing stress on family life which interferes with happiness and the growth of 
intelligence. Had the small fortune spent on my own schooling been invested instead in 
my people and my place directly, I have a hunch I would have turned out better. 
Whatever the truth of this complex proposition, as long as you've spent your money and 
time to hear what I have to say, you have a right to know something about the 
fountainhead of my school-teaching practice, my growing up time on the green river 

I feel grateful for the luck to have been born in a tiny city with the character of a village 
on the river Monongahela in western Pennsylvania. People cared for each other there. 
Even the town wastrels had a history. But we minded our own business in Mon City, too. 
Both are important. Everyone seemed to understand that within broad limits there is no 
one best way to grow up. Rich or poor doesn't matter much if you know what's 
important. Poverty can 't make you miserable; only a bad character and a weak spirit can 
do that. 

In Monongahela, people seemed to know that children have a remarkable power to 
survive unfavorable environments as long as they have a part in a vital community. In the 
years I grew up, in the place I grew up, tales of social workers breaking up families "in 
the best interests of the child" weren't common, although on several occasions I heard 
Uncle Bud threaten to punch out this man's lights or that one's if the person didn't start 
treating his wife better. Or his kids. Bud was always punching someone in the interest of 

Over the years any number of students found a way to tell me that what they appreciated 
most about my classes was that I didn't waste their time. I think I learned how not to do 
that through a bit of good luck — being born in Monongahela during the Depression when 
money was tight and people were forced to continue older traditions of making their own 
meanings instead of buying them. And they learned how many very different ways there 
were to grow strong. What the vast industry of professional child-rearing has told you 
about the right way to grow up matters less than you've been led to believe. Until you 
know that, you remain caught like a fly in the web of the great therapeutic community of 
modern life. That will make you sick quicker than anything. 

Singing And Fishing Were Free 

I went Christmas caroling long before I knew how to read or even what Christmas was 
about. I was three. The carolers stood on a corner diagonally across from my 
grandfather's printing office where their voices filled an informal amphitheater made by 
the slope of Second Street just before it met Main, the principal intersection of the town. 
If I had to guess where I learned to love rhythmical language it would be on that corner at 
the foot of Second Street hill. 

In Monongahela I fished for carp and catfish made inedible by river acids leaching out of 
the mines and waste put there by the mills. I fished them out with homemade dough balls 
whipped together in Grandmother Mossie's kitchen. In Monongahela I waited weekly for 
the changing of Binks McGregor's haberdashery window or Bill Pulaski's hardware 
display as eagerly as a theater-goer might wait to be refreshed by a new scenery change. 

Mother's family, the Zimmers, and the branch of Gattos my father represented, were poor 
by modern big city standards, but not really poor for that time and place. It was only in 
late middle age I suddenly realized that sleeping three to a bed — as Mother, Sister and I 
did — is almost an operational definition of poverty, or its close cousin. But it never 
occurred to me to think of myself as poor. Not once. Not ever. Even later on at 
Uniontown High School when we moved to a town with sharp social class gradations and 
a formal social calendar, I had little awareness of any unbridgeable gulf between myself 
and those people who invited me to country club parties and to homes grander than my 
own. Nor, do I believe, did they. A year at Cornell, however, made certain my innocence 
would come to an end. 

Mother was not so lucky. Although she never spoke openly of it, I know now she was 
ashamed of having less than those she grew up with. Once she had had much more before 
Pappy, my granddad, was wiped out in the 1929 crash. She wasn't envious, mind you, 
she was ashamed, and this shame constrained her open nature. It made her sad and 
wistful when she was alone. It caused her to hide away from former friends and the 
world. She yearned for dignity, for the days when her clothes were made in Paris. So in 
the calculus of human misery, she exercised her frustration on Dad. Their many 
separations and his long absences from home on business even when they lived together 
are likely to have originated in this immaculate tension. 

The great irony is that Mother did beautifully without money. She was resourceful, 
imaginative, generally optimistic, a woman with greater power to create something from 
nothing — totem poles from thread spools, an award-winning Halloween costume from 
scrap paper and cloth, a high-quality adventure from a simple walk through the hills — 
than anyone. She had no extravagant appetites, didn't drink, didn't crave exotic food, 
glamorous places, or the latest gadgets. She set her own hair and it was always lovely. 
And she kept the cleanest house imaginable, full of pretty objects which she gathered 
watchfully and with superb taste on her journey through life. As if to compound the irony 
of her discontent, Mon City was hardly a place to be rich. There wasn't much to buy 

The Greatest Fun Was Watching People Work 

I shouldn't say nobody had money in Monongahela, but it's accurate to say nothing was 
expensive. Beer was the town passion, more a religion with the men, and a big glass cost 
only a nickel, the same price as twelve ounces of buttermilk or a candy bar three times 
heavier than the modern sort. Bones to make soup were free. Beyond movies — twelve 
cents for kids — commercial entertainment hardly existed. There were a few bowling 
alleys at a nickel a frame, Redd's Beach (a pool at least ten miles away where swimming 
was a dime), and a roller-skating rink I never went to. 

Where society thrived was in hundreds of ethnic social clubs and fraternal organizations 
up and down the Valley: the Moose, the Elks, the Oddfellows, Mystic Knights, Sons of 
Slovenia, the Polish-American Society, the Russian-American Club. These were places 
for men to drink and talk cheaply except on Saturday night when ladies could drink and 
talk, too, alongside their men and have a dance. Sometimes with even a live band to give 
snap to the joint. 

No kid in Mon City reached for the "Events and Activities" page of the papers because 
there wasn't one, nor were there any special kid places that people of all ages didn't 
frequent. When the men weren't playing bocce at the Italian Club, kids were allowed, 
passing first through a barroom reeking of unpasteurized stale beer. No special life was 
arranged for kids. Yet there was always a full menu. Just spying on the adult world, 
watching people work, and setting out on expeditions to explore filled whatever time you 
wanted to spare. Until I got to Cornell, I can't recall anyone I ever knew saying "I'm 
bored." And yet in New York City, when I moved there, hardly a day passed without 
someone crying loud and long about ennui. Perhaps this indicates some important marker 
we've missed in our modern search to make private worlds for children — the constituents 
of meaning have been stripped away from these overspecialized places. Why a child 
would want to associate exclusively with children in a narrow age or social class range 
defies understanding, that adults would impose such a fate on kids strikes me as an act of 

The greatest fun was watching work at construction sites, watching freight trains unload 
or coal up, studying lumberyards at work, seeing gas pumped, hoods lifted, metal welded, 
tires vulcanized, watching Johnny Nami cut hair, watching Vito fill chocolates. Best of 
all was trailing Charlie Bigerton, the cop, on his rounds without his catching on. When 
kids around town pooled data about Charlie, we could recreate the police patrol schedule 
accurately enough that violating wartime curfew was like taking candy from a baby. 

Sitting In The Dark 

At 213 Second Street we lived over the printing office Granddad owned, the Zimmer 
Printing Company. "Since 1898," his swinging sign read. It was located only a block and 
a half from the green river west of the streetcar tracks on Main. In between river and 
streetcars was the Pennsylvania Railroad right of way and tracks which followed the river 
down to Pittsburgh. Our second floor bay window hung over the town's main intersection 
where trolleys from Charleroi and Donora passed constantly, clanging and hissing, all lit 
up in the dark night. 

An incredible vision, these things, orange metal animals with people in their stomachs, 
throwing illuminated reflections in color onto the ceiling of our living room by an optical 
process I often thought to have explained to me, but never did. Bright sparks flew from 
their wheels and fell from the air around the overhead power lines, burning sharp holes in 
dark places. From our perch, we could also see long freight trains roaring along the river, 
sending an orchestra of clanks and whistle shrieks into the sky. We could watch great 
paddle-wheel steamers plying the river in both directions, filling the air with columns of 
white steam. 

From early till late, Grandmother Mossie sat rocking. She sat at the window facing the 
river, quietly observing this mechanical show of riverboat, train, and streetcar — four tiers 
of movement if you count the stream of auto traffic, five if you include the pedestrians, 
our neighbors, flowing north and south on Main far into the night hours. She seldom 
ventured to the street from our apartment after her great disgrace of fifteen years earlier, 
when lack of money forced her to move abruptly one day from a large home with marble 
fireplaces. (She never spoke to my grandfather, not a word, after that, though they ate two 
meals a day at the same small table.) The telephone supplied sufficient new data about 
neighbors, enough so she could chart the transit of the civilization she had once known 
face to face. 

Sitting with Moss in the darkness was always magic. Keeping track of the mechanisms 
out there, each with its own personality, rolling and gliding this way or that on 
mysterious errands, watching grandmother smoke Chesterfield after Chesterfield with 
which she would write glowing words in the air for me to read, beginning with my name, 
"Jackie." Seen that way, words became exciting. I couldn't get enough of them. Imagine 
the two of us sitting there year after year, never holding a recognizable conversation yet 
never tiring of each other's company. Sometimes Moss would ask me to find numbers in 
the inspired graphics of an eccentric comic strip, "Toonerville Trolley," so she could 
gamble two cents with the barber across the street who ran numbers in the intervals 
between clipping his customers' hair. 

Although we really didn't hold conversation in any customary fashion, Moss would 
comment out loud on a wide range of matters, often making allusions beyond my ken. 
Was she speaking to herself? I would react or not. Sometimes I asked a question. After a 
smoke-filled interval, she might answer. Sometimes she would teach me nonsense riddles 
like "A titimus, a tatimus, it took two 't's to tie two 't's to two small trees, How many 't's 
are in all that?" Or tongue twisters like "rubber baby buggy bumpers" or "she sells sea 
shells by the sea shore," which I was supposed to say ten times in a row as fast as I could. 

Sometimes these were verses that would sound ugly to modern ears, as in "God made a 
nigger, He made him in the night; God made a nigger but forgot to make him white." Yet 
I have good reason to believe Moss never actually met or spoke with a black person in 
her entire life or harbored any ill-will toward one. It was just a word game, its only 
significance word play. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. 

On the subject of race, we all learned to sing about black people, officially, in third grade: 
"Darktown Strutters Ball," "Old Black Joe," and others. No discussion of race preceded 
or followed; they were just songs. Before you conclude my memories are daft and that 
Mon City must be a bigoted place, you need to know its tiny population contained the 
broadest diversity of ethnic groups living together in harmony. Ninety years earlier it had 
been a regular stop on the Underground Railroad. The barn of the Anawalt house was 
used for that purpose all through the 1850s. 

If Vico's notion in The New Science is correct, we encounter the world in ways first 
implicit in ourselves. There can be no filling of blank slates in education, no pouring of 
wisdom into empty children. If Vico is correct, the Monongahela I bring dripping to you 
from the bottom of my river memory is a private city, revealing the interior of my own 
mind. Whether you believe that the Fall is real or only a metaphor for the feeling we get 
when by losing our way home we find ourselves cut off from the creative source, who I 
am and why I taught the way I did is long ago and far away in that town, those people, 
that green river, not in any course of scientific pedagogy. 

I Hung Around A Lot In Monongahela 

The great destructive myth of the twentieth century was the aggressive contention that a 
child couldn't grow up correctly in the unique circumstances of his own family. In order 
to avoid having you finish this essay with the feeling it might have been all right for my 
family to influence my growth so intensely, but for many children with worse families 
that just wouldn't do, fix your attention a minute on the less savory aspects of my people, 
as they might be seen through social service eyes. Both sets of grandparents and my 
mother and father were seriously alienated from one another, the men from the women 
and vice versa. 

On the Zimmer side, heavy drinking and German/Irish tempers led to one violent conflict 
after another, conflicts to which my sister and I were fully exposed. We grew like weeds 
as children, with full run of the town, including its most dangerous places, had no 
effective curfew, and tended to excess in everything. Did I forget to mention the constant 
profanity? By up-to-the-minute big city standards my family skirted the boundary of 
court-ordered family dissolution more than once. 

Since a substantial number of the families I worked with productively as a schoolteacher 
had rap sheets similar to my own by social hygiene standards, I want to offer you my 
Monongahela years as a case study of how a less than ideal family by social work 
standards can still teach courage, love, duty, self-reliance; can awaken curiosity and 
wonder; can be a laboratory for independent thought, well-rooted identity, and 
communitarian feelings; and can grow in memory as a beloved companion even when it 
is composed of ghosts. 

The city of Monongahela itself is offered as a case study of a different sort, showing the 
power of common places to return loyalty by animating the tiniest details of existence. 
The town is a main character in my personal story, a genius loci interacting with my 

development as a schoolteacher. I invested an extreme amount of effort in the physical 
presence of my classrooms, I think, because the physical presence of my town never left 
me even after I was far removed from it. I wanted that same sort of ally for my kids. 

Gary Snyder once said, "Of all memberships we identify ourselves by, the one most 
forgotten that has greatest potential for healing is place." The quiet rage I felt at bearing 
the last name of a then socially devalued minority, the multiple grievances I felt off and 
on against my parents for being a house divided, at my sister for making herself a 
stranger to me, at my dad for staying away so I grew up with only a distant 
acquaintanceship between us, the bewilderment I felt from having to sit nightly at dinner 
with grandparents who hadn't spoken to one another for fifteen years and for whom I was 
required to act as go-between, the compounding of this bewilderment when I discovered 
my Italian grandfather had been buried in an unmarked grave, perhaps for taking a 
mistress, the utter divide geographically and culturally between Mother's family and 
Father's — the fantastic gulf between the expressive idiom of the Germans who treated 
rage and violence as if they were normal, and Dad's people, the quintessence of decorous 
rationality, the absolute inability of Mother to face the full demands of her maturity, yet 
her inspiring courage when her principles were challenged — all these made for an 
exciting, troubled, and even dangerous childhood. Would I have been better off in foster 
care, do you think? Are others? Are you insane? 

What allowed me to make sense of things against the kaleidoscope of these personal 
dynamics was that town and its river, two constants I depended upon. They were enough. 
I survived, even came to thrive because of my membership in Monongahela, the 
irreducible, unclassifiable, asystematic village of my boyhood. So different from the neo- 
villages of social work. 

All the town's denizens played a part: the iridescent river dragonflies, the burbling 
streetcars, the prehistoric freight trains, the grandeur of the paddle-wheel boats, the 
unpackaged cookies and uncut-in-advance-of-purchase cheese and meat, women in faded 
cotton housedresses who carried themselves with bearing and dignity in spite of 
everything, men who swore constantly and spit huge green and yellow globs of phlegm 
on the sidewalks, steelworkers who took every insult as mortal and mussed a little boy's 
hair because he was "Zim's nephew." 

I hung around a lot in Monongahela looking at things and people, trying them on for size. 
Much is learned by being lazy. I learned to fish that way, to defend myself, to take risks 
by going down in the abandoned coalmine across the river full of strange machinery and 
black water — a primitive world with nobody around to tell me to be careful. I learned to 
take knocks without running away, to watch hard men and women reveal themselves 
through their choices. I cleaned Pappy's printing office daily, after closing, for a silver St. 
Gaudens walking-goddess-Liberty fifty-cent piece, the most beautiful American coin ever 
made. I sold Sun-Telegraphs and Post-Gazettes on the corner of Second and Main for a 
profit of a penny a paper. I had a Kool-Aid stand on Main and Fourth on hot summer 

Shouldn't you ask why your boy or girl needs to know anything about Iraq or about 
computer language before they can tell you the name of every tree, plant, and bird outside 
your window? What will happen to them with their high standardized test scores when 
they discover they can't fry an egg, sew a button, join things, build a house, sail a boat, 
ride a horse, gut a fish, pound a nail, or bring forth life and nurture it? Do you believe 
having those things done for you is the same? You fool, then. Why do you cooperate in 
the game of compulsion schooling when it makes children useless to themselves as 
adults, hardly able to tie their own shoes? 

I learned to enjoy my own company in Monongahela, to feel at ease with anyone, to put 
my trust in personal qualities rather than statistical gradations. Anything else? Well, I 
learned to love there. 

Just across the river bridge and over the river hill was open farm country, and anyone 
could walk there in thirty minutes. Everyone was welcome, kids included. The farmers 
never complained. Mother would walk Joanie and me there in the early morning as mist 
was rising from the river. When she was seventy-two, I wrote to her trying to explain 
what I'm trying to explain now, how her town had given me underpinnings to erect a life 

Dear Mom, 

I think what finally straightened me out was memory of those early morning walks you 
used to take with me up River Hill, with mist rising from the green river and trees, the 
open pits of abandoned coalmines producing their own kind of strange beauty in the soft 
silence of the new day. Coming out of the grit and rust of Monongahela, crossing the 
clean architecture of the old bridge with its dizzy view to the river below through the 
wide-set slats underfoot, that was a worthy introduction to the hills on the far shore. 
Going up those hills with you we startled many a rabbit to flight. I know you remember 
that, too. I was amazed that wild things lived so close to town. Then at the top we could 
see Monongahela in the valley the way birds must but when we turned away, everything 
was barns and cornland. You gave me our town. It was the best gift. 

My best teachers in Monongahela were Frank Pizzica, the high-rolling car dealer; old Mr. 
Marcus, the druggist wiser than a doctor; Binks McGregor, psychological haberdasher; 
and Bill Pulaski, the fun-loving mayor. All would understand my belief that we need to 
be hiring different kinds of people to teach us, people who've proven themselves in life 
by bearing its pain like free spirits. Nobody should be allowed to teach until they get to be 
forty years old. No one should be allowed anywhere near kids without having known 
grief, challenge, success, failure, and sadness. 

We ought to be asking men and women who've raised families to teach, older men and 
women who know the way things are and why. Millions of retired people would make 
fine teachers. College degrees aren't a good way to hire anybody to do anything. Getting 
to teach should be a reward for proving over a long stretch of time that you understand 
and have command of your mind and heart. 

And you should have to live near the school where you teach. I had some eccentric 
teachers in Monongahela, but there was not a single one didn't live close to me as a 
neighbor. All existed as characters with a history profiled in a hundred informal mental 
libraries, like the library of her neighbors my grandmother kept. 

Shooting Birds 

On the way up Third Street hill to Waverly school each morning to discover what song 
Miss Wible was going to have kids memorize that day, I would pass a shack made of age- 
blackened hemlock, the kind you see on old barns long gone in disrepair. This shack 
perched at the edge of an otherwise empty double lot grown wild in burdock, wild 
hollyhock, and briar. I knew the old woman who lived there as Moll Miner because boys 
tormented her by shouting that name as they passed in the daily processional headed for 
school. I never actually saw her until one Saturday morning when, for want of anything 
better to do, I went to shoot birds. 

I had a Red Ryder BB rifle, Moll Miner's lot had birds, and so lying on my belly as if 
birds were wild Indians, I shot one. As it flopped around dying, the old woman ran 
shrieking from her shack to the fallen bird, raised it to bosom and then fled shouting, "I 
know who you are. You're the printer's boy. Why did you kill it? What harm did it do to 
you?" Then overcome with sobs she disappeared into her shack. 

Her wild white hair and old cotton housedress, light grey with faded pink roses, lingered 
in my vision after I went home. Who could answer such a question at eight or at twenty- 
eight? But being asked made me ask it of myself. I killed because I wanted to. I killed for 
fun. Who cared about birds? There were plenty of birds. But then, what did it mean, this 
crazy old lady taking the downed bird into her home? She said she knew me; how was 
that possible? It was all very puzzling. I found myself hoping the BB hadn't really killed 
the bird but only shocked it. I felt stupid and tried to put the incident out of my mind. A 
week or so later I got rid of my BB gun, trading it for an entrenching tool and some 
marbles. I told myself I was tired of it; it wasn't a real gun anyway. Around Halloween 
some kids were planning a prank on the old lady. I protested, saying we should pick on 
someone who could fight back and chase us. "We shouldn't pick on weak people," I said. 
"Anyway, that lady's not crazy, she's very kind." 

That winter, without asking, I shoveled the snow around her house. It was a business I 
usually did for pocket money, and I was good at it, but I didn't even ask permission. I just 
shoveled the sidewalk without asking for money. She watched me from her window 
without saying a word. Whether she recognized I was the boy who shot the bird, I wish I 
could tell you, but that's all there is. Not a sparrow falls, they say. That was the way I 
learned to care about moral values in Monongahela — by rubbing shoulders with men and 
women who cared about things other than what money bought, although they cared about 
money, too. I watched them. They talked to me. Have you noticed nobody talks to 
children in schools? I mean, nobody. All verbal exchanges in school are instrumental. 
Person-to-person stuff is contrary to policy. That's why popular teachers are disliked and 
fired. They talk to kids. It's unacceptable. 

On Punishment 

There was a time when hamburger pretty much described Alpha and Omega in my 
limited food sensibility. My grandparents didn't much care, and in the realm of 
monitored eating, Bootie was a pushover, but not the new girl on Second Street, Bud's 
wife, brought home from Cincinnati after WWII. Well, I remember the evening Helen 
prepared Chinese food, hardly a daring thing anywhere now, but in those long gone days 
around Pittsburgh, radical cuisine. I shut my nine-year-old mouth and flatly refused to eat 

"You will eat it," said Helen, "if you have to sit there all night." She was right. At 
midnight I did eat it. By then it tasted awful. But soon after the indignity, I discovered 
that miraculously I had developed a universal palate. I could eat and enjoy anything. 

When I was ten and eleven years old, I still made occasional assaults on my sister's 
sexual dignity. She was older, bigger, and stronger than me so there was little chance my 
vague tropisms could have caused any harm, but even that slight chance ended one 
afternoon, when on hearing one of these overtures, Pappy grabbed me abruptly behind 
the neck and back of a shoulder and proceeded to kick me like a football, painful step by 
painful step, up the staircase to our apartment. 

On theft: having discovered where the printing office stock of petty cash was kept, I 
acquired a dollar without asking. How Pap knew it was me I never found out, but when 
he burst through the apartment calling my name in an angry bellow, I knew I had been 
nailed and fled to the bathroom, the only door inside the apartment with a lock. Ignoring 
his demands to come out, with the greatest relief I heard his footsteps grow faint and the 
front door slam. But no sooner had I relaxed than he was back, this time with a house- 
wrecking bar. He pried the bathroom door off, hinge by hinge. I still remember the 
ripping sound it made. But nothing else. 

Almost every classroom in my junior high school and my high school had a wooden 
paddle hung prominently over the classroom door, nor were these merely decorative. I 
was personally struck about a dozen times in my school career; it always hurt. But it's 
also fair to say that unlike the assaults on my spirit I endured from time to time for 
bearing an Italian name at Cornell, none of these physical assaults caused any resentment 
to linger — in each instance, I deserved some sort of retribution for one malicious 
barbarism or another. I forgot the blows soon after they were administered. On the other 
hand, I harbor a significant amount of ill feeling for those teachers who humiliated me 
verbally; those I have no difficulty recalling. 

It might seem from examples I've given that I believe some simple relation between pain 
and self-improvement exists. But it isn't simple — with the single exception of a teenage 
boy whose pleasure came from terrifying girls, I never struck a single kid in three 
decades in the classroom. What I'm really trying to call your attention to is that simplistic 
codebook of rules passed down to us from academic psychology and enshrined as sacred 
text. Punishment played an important and positive role in shaping me. It has in the 

shaping of everyone I've known as a friend. Punishment has also ruined its share of 
victims, I know. The difference may reside in whether it arises from legitimate human 
grievances or from the bloodless discipline of a bureaucracy. It's a question nobody 
should regard as closed. 


For the first three years of my life I lived in Monongahela. Then we moved to a tiny brick 
house in Swissvale, an urban village despite its bucolic name, a gritty part of industrial 
Pittsburgh. We lived near Union Switch and Signal Corporation, a favorite goal of 
exploratory probes among the street urchins on Calumet to which I quickly pledged my 

On rainy days I would stand on the porch watching raindrops. It was a next best to my 
lost river, I suppose. Sometimes on the porch of the next house, two enchanting little 
girls, Marilyn and Beverly, played. Because our porch was somewhat higher than theirs I 
could watch them unobserved (at least they pretended not to see me). Thus it was that I 
fell in love. 

Marilyn was a year older than me, already in first grade. Even in 1939 that placed her 
impossibly beyond me in every regard. Still, as my next door neighbor, she spoke to me 
from time to time in that friendly but distant fashion grand ladies adopt with gardeners 
and chauffeurs. You would have to see how humble both our homes were to realize the 
peculiarity of my analogy. 

Beverly, her sister, was a year younger. By the invisible code of the young in well- 
schooled areas she might well not have existed. Her presence on the social periphery 
merited the same attention you might give a barking puppy, but at the age of four I found 
myself helplessly in love with her older sister in the pure fashion the spiritual side of 
nature reserves as a sign, I think, that materiality isn't the whole or even the most 
important part. 

The next year, when I matriculated at McKelvy elementary, first graders and second were 
kept rigidly separated from each other even on the playground. The first heartbreak of my 
life, and the most profound, was the blinding epiphany I experienced as I hung on the 
heavy wire fence separating the first grade compound from the combined second-/third- 
grade play area. From the metal mesh that I peered through astigmatically, I could see 
Marilyn laughing and playing with strange older boys, oblivious to my yearning. Each 
sound she made tore at my insides. The sobs I choked back were as deep at age five as 
ever again I felt in grief, their traces etched in my mind six decades later. 

So this was what being a year younger had to mean? My sister was two years older and 
she hardly ever spoke to me. Why should Marilyn? I slunk around to avoid being near her 
ever again after that horrible sight seared my little soul. I mention this epiphany of age- 
grading because of the striking contradiction to it Monongahela posed in presenting a 
universe where all ages co-mingled, cross-fertilizing each other in a dynamic fashion that 

I suddenly recognized one day was very like the colonial world described by Benjamin 
Franklin in his Autobiography. 

Swissvale taught me also that Mother and Father were at war with each other — a sorry 
lesson to learn at five. That the battles were over differences of culture which have no 
rational solution, I couldn't know. Each couple who tries to merge strong traditions, as 
my parents did, must accept the challenge as vast, one not to be undertaken lightly or quit 
on easily. The voices of timeless generations are permanently merged in offspring. 
Marriage is a legal fiction, but marriage in one's children is not. There is no way to 
divorce inside the kid's cells. When parents war on each other, they set the child to 
warring against himself, a contest which can never be won. It places an implacable 
enemy deep inside which can't be killed or exorcised, and from whose revenge there is 
no escape. 

I thank God my parents chose the middle road, the endless dialectic. Dad, the liberal 
thinker (even though his party affiliation was Republican and his attitude conservative) 
always willing to concede the opposition some points; Mom, the arch conservative even 
though her voice was always liberal Democrat, full of prickly principles she was prepared 
to fight for, like Beau Geste, to the bitter end. 

For all the hardly bearable stresses this endless combat generated, their choice to fight it 
out for fifty years saved me from even harsher grief. I love them both for struggling so 
hard without quitting. I know it was better for sister and me that way; it gave us a chance 
to understand both sides of our own nature, to make some accurate guesses about the gifts 
we possessed. It prepared us to be comfortable with ourselves. I think they were better for 
the fifty-year war, too. Better than each would have been alone. 

[Interlude while the lump in my throat subsides] 

I remember FDR on the radio in our postage-stamp living room announcing Pearl Harbor, 
eight days before my sixth birthday. I remember the uneasy feeling I harbored for a long 
time over war reports from the Far East that played out of the old Philco. I thought the 
Japanese would cut off my hands because the war news said that's what Japs did to 

The high point of the Swissvale years for me wasn't the war or the phenomenal array of 
wax lips, sugar dot licorice, Fleers Dubble Bubble, and other penny candies which 
seemed to vanish all at once just a short time after the war ended, like dinosaurs. It wasn't 
leaping from a high wall with a Green Hornet cape streaming behind as I fell like a stone, 
scarring my knees for eternity. It wasn't even Marilyn herself. The hinge in all my years, 
separating what went before from all that followed, was the night sister and I awakened 
to the shrieking contralto of Mother's voice and the quieter second tenor of Father's, 
intermingling in the downstairs entrance hall. 

I remember crawling to the upstairs landing bathed in shadows to find Sister already 
there. The next five minutes were the closest we ever came to each other emotionally, the 

most important experience we ever shared. Bootie was threatening to leave Andy if 
something important wasn't done. She was so upset that efforts to calm her down (so the 
neighbors wouldn't hear) only fanned the flames. With the hindsight of better than a half 
century, I'm able to conclude now that they were arguing over an abortion for what 
would have been her third child, my never-to-be brother or sister. 

Mother was tired of being poor and didn't want to be any poorer. She was tired of 
constant work when she had grown up with servants. She was overwhelmed by the 
unfairness of being confined with children, day in, day out, when her husband drove off 
to the outside world in a suit and tie, often to be gone for days at a time, living in hotels, 
seeing exciting things. She would have implied (because I was to hear the insinuation 
many times in their marriage) that he was living the life of Riley while she slaved. 

Bootie wanted an abortion, and the angry words that went back and forth discussing what 
was then a crime wafted up the stairwell to where two little children sat huddled in 
uncomprehending disbelief. It was the end of our childhood. I was seven, Joan was nine. 
Finally Mother shouted, "I'm leaving!" and ran out the front door, slamming it so hard it 
made my ears hurt and the glass ring. "If that's the way you want it, I'm locking the 
door," my father said with a trace of humor in his voice, trying to defuse mother's anger, 
I think. 

A few seconds of silence, and then we heard a pounding and pounding upon the locked 
door. "Open the door! Open the door! Open the door or I'll break it down!" An instant 
later her fist and entire arm smashed through the glass panes in the front door. I saw 
bright arterial blood flying everywhere and bathing that disembodied hand and arm. I 
would rather be dead than see such a sight again. But as I write, I see Mother's bleeding 
arm in front of my eyes. 

Do such things happen to nice people? Of course, and much more often than we 
acknowledge in our sanitized, wildly unrealistic human relations courses. It was the end 
of the world. Without waiting to see the next development, I ran back to bed and pulled 
the pillow tightly over my ears. If I had known what was coming next, I would have hid 
in the cellar and prayed. 

A week later, Swissvale was gone for good. Just like that, without any warning, like the 
blinking light of fireflies in our long, narrow, weed-overgrown backyard, it stopped 
abruptly on a secret firefly signal, on a secret tragic signal — Marilyn and Tinker, penny 
candy, McKelvy school and contact with my Italian relatives stopped for the next six 
years. With those familiar things gone, my parents went too. I never allowed myself to 
have parents again. Without any good-byes they shipped us off to Catholic boarding 
school in the mountains near Latrobe, placed us in the hands of Ursuline nuns who 
accepted the old road to wisdom and maturity, a road reached through pain long and 

There was no explanation for this catastrophe, none at least that I could understand. In 
my fiftieth year Mother told me offhandedly in an unguarded moment about the abortion. 

She wasn't apologetic, only in a rare mood of candor, glad to be unburdened of this 
weight on her spirit at last. "I couldn't take another child," she said. We stopped for a 
hamburger and the subject changed, but I knew a part of the mystery of my own spirit 
had been unlocked. 

Boarding school was a harsh and stark contrast with my former life. I had never made a 
bed in my life. Now I was forced to make one every morning, and the made bed was 
inspected! Used to the privacy of my own room, now I slept in a dormitory with fifteen 
other boys, some of whom would cry far into the night, every night. Sometimes I cried 
with them. Shortly after arrival, I was assigned a part in an assembly about roasting in 
Hell, complete with stage sets where we dressed up like flames. As the sinner unrepentant 
was tormented by devils, I jumped up and down to make it hot for the reprobate. I can 
hear my own reedy falsetto squeezing out these parentless verses: 

Know ye not the burning anguish, 

Of thee-eese souls, they-er heart's dee-zire? 

I don't want to beat up on the sisters as if I were Fellini in Juliet of the Spirits. This was 
all kosher according to their lights, and it made a certain amount of sense to me, too. By 
that point in time, although nominally Roman Catholic, I probably hadn't been to church 
more than ten times, counting Baptism and First Communion. Just walking around, 
though, is enough to make a kid conscious of good and evil, conscious, too, of the 
arbitrary nature of human justice. Even a little boy sees rottenness rewarded and good 
people smacked down. Unctuous rationalizations of this by otherwise sensible adults 
disgust little children. The sisters had a story that gave satisfying human sense to these 
matters. For all the things I hated about Xavier, I actually liked being a flame and many 
other aspects of the religious narrative. They felt right somehow in a way the dead 
universe of Newton, Darwin, or Marx never did. 

I carried the status of exile around morning, noon, and night, the question never out of 
mind — what had I done to be sent here? Only a small part of me actually showed up in 
class or playground or dining hall each day, the rest of my being taking up residence in 
the lost Oz of Monongahela, even though Swissvale should have logically been the more 
proximate yearning, since that was where we lived when I was sent away. I missed the 
green river, I think. 

Joan was there, too, but we were in separate dormitories. In the year we spent at Xavier I 
can't remember holding a single conversation with my sister. Like soldiers broken apart 
in dangerous terrain, we struggled alone looking for some private way out of 
homelessness. It couldn't have helped that Sister was two years older than I. By that time 
she had been carefully indoctrinated, I think, as I had been, that every age hangs 
separately. Sticks to its own class. You see how the trick is done? 

At Xavier Academy, scarcely a week passed without a beating. I was publicly whipped 
for wetting the bed, whipped for mispronouncing French verbs, whipped for hiding beets 
inside my apple pie (I hated beets, but the house rule was that vegetables had to be eaten, 

dessert did not). Some telltale beet corner where a brown apple should have been must 
have given me away to a sharp-eyed stoolie — the kapo who bussed away dessert. I was 
nabbed at exactly the moment dining hall loudspeakers blared the wartime hit, "Coming 
in on a wing and a prayer. With one motor gone we can still carry on, coming in on a 
wing and a prayer." Most dramatic of all the beatings I endured, however, was the one 
following my apprehension by the Latrobe police. 

The spirit that came over Mother when she shattered the glass must have revived in me to 
set the stage for that whipping. One night after bed check, I set out to get home to my 
river. I felt sure my grandparents wouldn't turn me away. I planned the break for weeks, 
and took no one into my confidence. I had a dozen bags of salted peanuts from the 
commissary, a thin wool blanket and a pillow, and the leather football Uncle Bud gave 
me when he went away to war. 

Most of the first night I walked, hiding in the tall grass away from the road all the next 
day, eating peanuts. I had gotten away full of determination. I would make it home, I 
knew, if I could only figure out what direction Monongahela was in! But by 
midafternoon the following day, I made a fatal mistake. Tired of walking and hiding, I 
decided to hitch a ride as I had once seen Clark Gable do in a famous movie with 
Claudette Colbert. I was picked up by two matronly ladies whom I regaled deceitfully 
with a story of my falling out of the back of Granddad's pickup truck where dog Nappy 
and I had been riding on the way back to Mon City. "He didn't notice I was gone and he 
probably thinks I jumped out when we got home and went to play." 

I had not calculated the fatal football that would give me away. As a precaution against 
theft (so they said) the Ursulines stamped "St. Xavier" many times on every possession. 
My football hadn't escaped the accusatory stencil. As we chatted like old comrades about 
how wonderful it was to be going to Monongahela, a town out of legend we all agreed, 
the nice ladies took me directly to the Latrobe police, who took me directly — heedless of 
my hot tears and promises to even let them have my football — back to the ladies in black. 

The whole school assembled to witness my disgrace. Boys and girls arranged in a long 
gauntlet through which I was forced on hands and knees to crawl the length of the 
administration building to where Mother Superior stood exhorting the throng to avoid my 
sorry example. When I arrived in front of her, she slapped my face. I suppose my sister 
must have been there watching, too. Sister and I never discussed Xavier, not once, then or 

The intellectual program at Xavier, influenced heavily by a Jesuit college nearby, 
constituted a massive refutation of the watery brain diet of government schooling. I 
learned so much in a single year I was nearly in high school before I had to think very 
hard about any particular idea or procedure presented in public school. I learned how to 
separate pertinent stuff from dross; I learned what the difference between primary and 
secondary data was, and the significance of each; I learned how to evaluate separate 
witnesses to an event; I learned how to reach conclusions a half-dozen ways and the 
potential for distortion inherent in the dynamics of each method of reasoning. I don't 

mean to imply at all that I became a professional thinker. I remained very much a seven- 
and eight-year-old boy. But I moved far enough in that year to become comfortable with 
matters of mind and intellect. 

Unlike the harsh treatment of our bodies at Xavier, even the worst boy there was assumed 
to have dignity, free will, and a power to choose right over wrong. Materialistic 
schooling, which is all public schooling even at its best can ever hope to be, operates as if 
personality changes are ultimately caused externally, by applications of theory and by a 
skillful balancing of rewards and punishments. The idea that individuals have free will 
which supersedes any social programming is anathema to the very concept of forced 
schooling. 1 Was the Xavier year valuable or damaging? If the Ursulines and Jesuits 
hadn't forced me to see the gulf between intelligence and intellect, between thinking and 
disciplined thinking, who would have taken that responsibility? 

The greatest intellectual event of my life occurred early in third grade before I was 
yanked out of Xavier and deposited back in Monongahela. From time to time a Jesuit 
brother from St. Vincent's College would cross the road to give a class at Xavier. The 
coming of a Jesuit to Xavier was always considered a big-time event even though there 
was constant tension between the Ursuline ladies and the Jesuit men. One lesson I 
received at the visiting brother's hands 2 altered my consciousness forever. By 
contemporary standards, the class might seem impossibly advanced in concept for third 
grade, but if you keep in mind the global war that claimed major attention at that 
moment, then the fact that Brother Michael came to discuss causes of WWI as a prelude 
to its continuation in WWII is not so far-fetched. 3 After a brief lecture on each combatant 
and its cultural and historical characteristics, an outline of incitements to conflict was 
chalked on the board. 

"Who will volunteer to face the back of the room and tell us the causes of World War 

"I will, Brother Michael," I said. And I did. 

"Why did you say what you did?" 

"Because that's what you wrote." 

"Do you accept my explanation as correct?" 

"Yes, sir." I expected a compliment would soon follow, as it did with our regular teacher. 

"Then you must be a fool, Mr. Gatto. I lied to you. Those are not the causes at all." It was 
like being flattened by a steamroller. I had the sensation of being struck and losing the 
power of speech. Nothing remotely similar had ever happened to me. 

"Listen carefully, Mr. Gatto, and I shall show you the true causes of the war which men 
of bad character try to hide," and so saying he rapidly erased the board and in swift 

fashion another list of reasons appeared. As each was written, a short, clear explanation 
followed in a scholarly tone of voice. 

"Now do you see, Mr. Gatto, why you must be careful when you accept the explanation 
of another? Don't these new reasons make much more sense?" 

"Yes, sir." 

"And could you now face the back of the room and repeat what you just learned?" 

"I could, sir." And I knew I could because I had a strong memory, but he never gave me 
that chance. 

"Why are you so gullible? Why do you believe my lies? Is it because I wear clothing you 
associate with men of God? I despair you are so easy to fool. What will happen to you if 
you let others do your thinking for you?" 

You see, like a great magician he had shifted that commonplace school lesson we would 
have forgotten by the next morning into a formidable challenge to the entire contents of 
our private minds, raising the important question, Who can we believe? At the age of 
eight, while public school children were reading stories about talking animals, we had 
been escorted to the eggshell-thin foundation upon which authoritarian vanity rests and 
asked to inspect it. 

There are many reasons to lie to children, the Jesuit said, and these seem to be good 
reasons to older men. Some truth you will know by divine intuition, he told us, but for the 
rest you must learn what tests to apply. Even then be cautious. It is not hard to fool 
human intelligence. 

Later I told the nun in charge of my dorm what had happened because my head was 
swimming and I needed a second opinion from someone older. "Jesuits!" she snapped, 
shaking her head, but would say no more. 

Now that Xavier is reduced to a historical marker on Route 30 near Latrobe, I go back to 
it in imagination trying to determine how much of the panic I felt there was caused by the 
school itself, how much by the chemical fallout from my parents' troubled marriage, how 
much from the aftershock of exile. In wrestling with this, one thing comes clear: those 
nuns were the only people who ever tried to make me think seriously about questions of 
religion. Had it not been for Xavier, I might have passed my years as a kind of 
freethinker by default, vaguely aware that an overwhelming percentage of the entire 
human race did and said things about a God I couldn't fathom. How can I reconcile that 
the worst year of my life left behind a dimension I should certainly have been poorer to 
have missed? 

One day it was over. The night before it happened, Mother Superior told me to pack; that 
I would be leaving the next morning. Strong, silent, unsentimental Pappy showed up the 

next day, threw my bag into the car, and drove me back to Monongahela. It was over, just 
like that. 

Back home I went as if I'd never left, though now it was to a home without a father. 
Mother was waiting, friendly and smiling as I had last seen her. We were installed, the 
three of us, in a double bed in a back room over the printing office. Our room was 
reached through the kitchen and had another door opening onto an angled tarpaper roof 
from which on clear nights the stars could be seen, the green river scented. It was the 
happiest day of my life. 

Where father was, nobody ever told me, and I never asked. This indifference wasn't 
entirely generated by anger, but from a distinct sense that time was rapidly passing while 
I was still ignorant of important lessons I had to learn. 

In her best seller of the 1990s, It Takes a Village, Hillary Clinton expressed puzzlement over the fact thatWestern conservative thought 
emphasizes innate qualities of individual children in contrast to Oriental concepts which stress the efficacy of correct procedure. There are a 
number of paths which led to this vital difference between West and East, but Western spiritual tradition, which insists that salvation is a 
individual matter and that individual responsibility must be accepted is the most important influence by far. See Chapter 14, "Absolute 

Traditions of intellectual refinement have long been associated with Jesuit orders. Jesuits were school-masters to the elites of Europe well 
before "school" was a common notion. Not long ago it was discovered that the rules of conduct George Washington carried with him were 
actually an English translation of a Jesuit manual, Decency Among the Conversations of Men, compiled by French Jesuits in 1595. 

It's almost impossible these days to chart the enormous gulf between schooling of the past and that of the present, in intellectual terms, but a 
good way to get a quick measure of what might be missing is to read two autobiographies: the first that of John Stuart Mill, covering a 
nineteenth-century home education of a philosopher, the second by Norbert Wiener, father of, cybernetics, dealing with the home education of 
a scientist. When you read what an eight-year-old's mind is capable of you will find my account pretty weak tea. 


Five days a week the town turned its children out in the morning to march up the hill to 
Waverly or down to the end of town to high school. There was no school bus. Waverly 
was frozen midway between the one-room schoolhouse tradition of transferring 
responsibility to children — we fought to fill the inkwells, clean the pen nibs, sweep the 
floor, serve in the lunchroom, clean the erasers, help our slower classmates in arithmetic 
and reading — and the specialized procedures and curriculum of the slowly dawning 
corporate age of schooling. While this latter style had been sold as more "socially 
efficient" ever since 1905, the realities of town life were such that nothing passed muster 
at Waverly which didn't first pass muster with parents and the elders of the town. 

School was something you took like medicine. You did it because your mother had done 
it and your grandmother. It was supposed to be good for you. Nobody believed it was 
decisively so. Looking back, I might agree this daily exercise with neighbors suddenly 
transformed into grammarians, historians, and mathematicians might well have been, as 
Mother said, "good for me." One thing is certain, these part-time specialists cared a great 
deal about Mother's opinion of what they were doing, just as she cared about theirs in 
regard to her parenting. 

The schoolteachers I remember are few but bear noting: Peg Hill who spoke to me 
exactly the way she did to the principal and won my heart for treating me as a peer; Miss 
Wible who taught me to sing and memorize song lyrics so ferociously, that my 
vocabulary and dramatic repertoire increased geometrically (even if we did whisper to 
each other that she was reading "love books" at her desk as we copied the day's words); 
old Miss McCullough, who played "American Patrol" every single day for an entire 
school year on a hand-cranked phonograph: "You must be vigilant, you must be diligent, 
American Patrol!" Her expressionless face and brutally stark manner stifled any 
inclination to satire. If we have to have schoolteachers, let some of them be this kind of 

At Waverly I learned about principle when Miss Hill read from Gibbon's Decline and 
Fall of the Roman Empire. She read of the courageous death of Blandina the slave, a 
teenage convert to Christianity who was offered her life to repudiate her faith and a cruel 
death if she refused. She refused. I learned that all the management savvy of the most 
powerful empire in history couldn't overwhelm the principles of a teenage slave. 

Principles were a daily part of every study at Waverly. In latter days, schools replaced 
principles with an advanced form of pragmatism called "situational ethics," where 
principles were shown to be variable according to the demands of the moment. During 
the 1970s, forcing this study on children became an important part of the school religion. 
People with flexible principles reserve the right to betray their covenants. It's that simple. 
The misery of modern life can be graphed in the rising incidence of people who exercise 
the right to betray each other, whether business associates, friends, or even family. 
Pragmatists like to keep their options open. When you live by principles, whatever 
semantic ambiguity they involve you in, there are clear boundaries to what you will 
allow, even when nobody is watching. 

Frances "Bootie" Zimmer 

Frances "Bootie" Zimmer was born on Halloween in 1911 at Monongahela General 
Hospital, three years before the country had an income tax or a Federal Reserve Bank, in 
the first flush moments of scientific pedagogy practically realized. She was five years 
younger than dad, two inches taller, born in a country on the gold standard where 
common citizens carried precious metal in their pockets as money. 

She was three when WWI began, six when the Gary Plan riots struck New York City 
schools. In the postwar years, her father, son of a German immigrant from the Palatinate, 
became prosperous by working around the clock as a print shop proprietor and sometimes 
investor in movies, carnivals, newspapers, and real estate. His grandchildren, Moss and 
Taylor, my brilliant cousins, are still in the printing business in Bethel Park, near 
Pittsburgh, one hundred years later. 

Bootie graduated from Monongahela High, where she was a cheerleader, in 1929, a few 
months before the market crash. Besides losing money, some other great catastrophe 
must have happened to the Zimmers then, but I've only been able to unearth a few shards 

of its nature. Whatever its full dimension, it included the sudden eviction of Grandmother 
Moss from her home, the incarceration of great-grandfather Frederick in an old-age 
institution far away, the flight of great- grandmother Isabelle to Detroit at the age of 
seventy-nine, at a time when Detroit and the moon were equally distant, and the severing 
of ties between Granddad and his brothers to the extent that though they lived cheek to 
jowl with us in the tiny city, I was neither aware of their existence nor did they once say 
hello. Ach! 

In the great breakup, Bud ran to Chicago without a penny and without graduating from 
high school; Mother, too, ran off in dramatic fashion, telling her best friend as she 
boarded a train for Pittsburgh that she would wave a handkerchief at the window if she 
intended to return. She didn't wave. And though she did return, she hid ever after, never 
speaking to any of her childhood friends again. I discovered all this when I advertised in 
the local paper after Bootie's death, asking to speak to anyone who had known her as a 

Mother was bone-thin with large blue eyes and hair gone white at thirty, just as my own 
did. She lived on a razor's edge between a need to avoid shame and an almost equally 
desperate need to find a way to express her considerable talents, a goal conventional 
assessment would say eluded her forever. Yet everything she turned her hand to was 
marked by electrifying energy. Our Christmas trees were an art form. Our home was 
cleaner and neater than a hospital operating room. Beauty and good taste flowed from her 
fingertips. But the shame, which she would rather have died than acknowledge, always 
defeated her in the end and made her melancholy when she thought no one was looking. 

I think Mother tried to force her fierce spirit into Dad and live through him. When that 
failed, she pinned her hopes on me. This, I think, caused the original breach in the 
marriage. Compared to the driven Germans she knew best, Dad must have presented a 
lifelong frustration. And though we never went hungry or lacked a roof, the absence of 
extra money represented decisive evidence to her of damnation, permanent exile from the 
fairyland of her youth. 

And yet the exquisite irony bedevils me like a fury — never have I met anyone able to 
make such magic out of nothing. When, to her great surprise, she came into a 
considerable amount of money after father's death, like Midas' wish, it offered her 
nothing she really needed. Nor was she able to spend any of it to buy her heart's desire, 
an avenue for her talent and some dignity. 

In 1932 Frances Zimmer went off alone on her frightening adventure, marrying into a 
magnificent Italian family which had pulled itself out of the immigrant stew while the 
patriarch was alive, only to plummet back into the soup after his death. She married all 
alone, without a father or mother there to give her away. 

Giovanni Gatto, my grandfather, had been an enlightened publicista in Italy, an unheard 
of Presbyterian Italian who swept a contessa off her feet in Calabria in the elopement 

which resulted in her disinheritance. Together, Giovanni and Lucrezia came to America 
with their young children and set up house in Pittsburgh. 

Giovanni is another family ghost I worked to discover. After a short time in this country, 
he was hired (personally) by Andrew Mellon to be manager of the Foreign Exchange 
Department of Mellon Bank. He was a man for whom restaurants kept a personalized 
champagne bucket, a man who commissioned stone sculptures for his garden. 
Grandfather Gatto was also leader of the Freemasons of Pittsburgh, the Grand Venerable. 
An old news clipping reported his death in thirty- five column inches with three headlines 
and a dignified photograph. The obituary called him "leader of the Italian colony of 
Pittsburgh," continuing, "fifty-eight cars, each carrying eight persons, were required to 
convey friends of the deceased to the cemetery and back home again." 

His death produced a shock for the living. No assets survived Giovanni. Only a hasty sale 
of the home for much less than its value kept the family out of immediate poverty. The 
children scrambled to find a toehold in the working world and by a stoical acceptance of 
reduced circumstances managed to keep the family together and to support Lucrezia, who 
spoke little English. It was a pulling together the Zimmers had not been able to manage. 

Ten years later, mother was drawn into this family orbit, she holding tight to her secrets, 
Dad doing the same with his own. What the merger should have conferred on Sister and 
me was a striking band of distinctive individuals: big-hearted Laura, elegant Josephine, 
witty and caustic Virginia, crotchety Achilles (renamed Kelly.) There was also Nick, the 
humanist; Frank, the intellectual; and Lucrezia, the contessa. But instead, our private 
hurts kept us apart as surely as the same force divided my sister and me. 

Mother found subtle ways to discourage fraternization with the sociable Gattos, Dad 
eventually taking the hint. Until I was fully grown and well into midlife, the Gattos were 
a palimpsest for me; what cousins that family held, I was strictly partitioned from. When 
occasionally I was taken to visit Frank or Laura or Josephine, or all together, we were 
formal with each other, in Old World style. Each extended courtesy to me, complete with 
those little flourishes of etiquette which give significance to the best encounters of 
children with grown-ups — a quality once common and now rare which transferred 
naturally into my schoolteaching. 

Walking Around Monongahela 

We're back in Monongahela now, a town of strong principles even if some are wacky or 
plain wrong. Pragmatism is a secondary theme here, scorned by most unless it keeps to 
its place, a bittersweet oddity because practicality is the town's lingua franca. The 
phenomenon of open scorn for the lower orders isn't seen in my Valley, never to the 
degree I experienced it later in Ithaca, Cambridge, and Manhattan. The oppressed are 
insufficiently docile in Monongahela for anyone to revile openly. So the Pinkerton 
detectives found out when they went to do Andrew Carnegie's dirty work at Homestead 
during the steel strike of 1893. There is only one restaurant in the town proper, "Peters." 

It's a place where the country club set drinks coffee alongside rubber jockeys from the 
tire vulcanizing shop across the street. 

Several nights a week, long after dark when house lights were blazing, Mother would 
gather Sister and me for long quiet walks up Second Street hill to the very top, then along 
the streets on the ridge line parallel to the river. From these excursions and the morning 
walks on River Hill I learned to listen to my senses and see that town as a creature in 
itself instead of a background for my activity. We would walk this way for hours, 
whispering to each other, looking in windows, and as we walked, Bootie would deliver 
an only partially intelligible stream of biographical lore about the families within. I 
realize now that she must have been talking to herself. It was like having a private 
Boswell to the Dr. Johnson of town society. When she had some money, which was now 
and then, we would buy candy at the little grocery at the top of the hill and share it 
together, sometimes two candy bars for the three of us or in flush times a whole bar 
each — and in the weeks following Christmas when there was holiday money, two each. 
On two-candy nights the atmosphere seemed so filled with chocolate perfume that I could 
hardly sleep. 

When my granddad was a boy in Monongahela he watched John Blythe, a planing mill 
operator, rebuild large sections of the town in the Italianate style. Blythe had no degree, 
and the religion of professional licensing was still in infancy, so he just did it without 
asking anyone's permission. Whole sections of the town are now handsome beyond any 
reasonable right to be because nobody stopped him. If you see a keystone over a window 
molding, it's likely to be one of John's. 

When my granddad was a boy in Monongahela he used to sit in Mounds Park, site of two 
ancient burial mounds left there by the Adena people three thousand years ago. In 1886, 
the Smithsonian robbed those graves and took the contents to Washington where they 
still sit in crates. To compensate the town, the government built a baseball field where the 
mounds had been. When my granddad was a boy, school was voluntary. Some went, but 
most not for long. It was a free will choice based on what you valued, not a government 
hustle to stabilize social classes. 

The College Of Zimmer And Hegel 

The most important studies I ever engaged in weren't at Cornell or Columbia, but in the 
windowless basement of the Zimmer Printing Company, a block and a half from the 
railroad tracks that ran alongside the Monongahela. Some of my greatest lessons 
unfolded near the mysterious dark green river, with its thick ice sheet near the banks in 
winter, its iridescent dragonflies in summer, and its always breathtaking sternwheelers 
pounding the water up and down, BAM! BAM! BAM! on the way to ports unknown. To 
me, the river was without beginning or end. 

Before he went to Germany to beat up the Nazis, my warrior Uncle Bud worked on a 
riverboat that went down the Mississippi to New Orleans, on what mission I can't say, 
then on other boats that went up and down smaller local rivers. When I was five, he once 

threw an orange to me from a riverboat galley while it passed through a lock. A right 
fielder's strong throwing arm sent that orange two hundred feet out of the watery trench 
into my hands. I didn't even have to move. 

In the basement of the printing office, Bud's father ("the General," as Moss called him 
behind his back) moved strong hands on and off of a printing press. Those presses are 
gone, but my grandfather's hands will never be gone. They remain on my shoulder as I 
write this. I would sit on the steps into his subterranean world, watching closely hour 
after hour as those rough hands fed sheets of paper into the steam-driven clamshell press. 
It went BAM! (feed) BAM! (feed) BAM! (feed) like the riverboats and bit by bit the job 
piled up on the table next to the press. 

It was a classroom without bells or tests. I never got bored, never got out of line. In 
school I was thrown out of class frequently for troublemaking, but Pappy wouldn't stand 
for nonsense. Not a scrap of it. He was all purpose. I never saw a man concentrate as he 
did, as long as it took, whatever was called for. I transferred that model unconsciously to 
my teaching. While my colleagues were ruled by start-up times, bell schedules, lunch 
hour, loudspeaker announcements, and dismissal, I was oblivious to these interruptions. I 
was ruled by the job to be done, kid by kid, until it was over, whatever that meant, kid by 

No baseball or football, no fishing, no shopping, no romantic adventure could have 
possibly matched the fascination I felt watching that tough old man in his tough old town 
work his hand-fed press in a naked-light-bulb lit cellar without any supervisor to tell him 
what to do or how to feel about it. He knew how to design and do layout, set type, buy 
paper, ink presses and repair them, clean up, negotiate with customers, price jobs, and 
keep the whole ensemble running. How did he learn this without school? Harry Taylor 
Zimmer, Senior. I loved him. Still do. 

He worked as naturally as he breathed, a perfect hero to me — I wonder if he understood 
that. On some secret level it was Pappy who held our family together, regardless of his 
position as pariah to his wife and his estranged brothers, regardless of an ambivalent 
relationship of few words with his daughter and son, granddaughter and grandson, and 
with his remaining brother, Will, the one who still spoke to him and worked alongside 
him at the presses. I say "spoke" when the best I can personally attest to is only 
association. They worked side by side but I never actually heard a single conversation 
between them. Will never entered our apartment above the shop. He slept on the press 
table in the basement. Yet Pappy kept the family faith. He knew his duty. When Bud 
brought his elegant wife home from the war, she would sit in Pappy' s room talking to 
him hour after hour, the two snorting and laughing thick as thieves. He had lost the key of 
conversation only with his own bloodline. 

I realize today that if Pappy couldn't count on himself, he was out of business and the rest 
of us in the poorhouse. If he hadn't liked himself, he would have gone crazy, alone with 
those heavy metal rhythms in the eternal gloom of the printing office basement. As I 
watched him he never said a word, didn't throw a glance in my direction. I had to supply 

my own incentive, welcome to stay or go, yet I sensed he appreciated my presence. 
Perhaps he did understand how I loved him. Sometimes when the job was finished he 
would lecture me a little about politics I didn't understand. 

In the craft tradition, printers are independent, even dangerous men. Ben Franklin was a 
printer like my German grandfather, himself preoccupied with things German at times. 
Movable type itself is German. Pappy was a serious student of the Prussian philosopher 
Hegel. I would hear Hegel's name in his conversations with Bud's wife, Helen. Late in 
his own life he began to speak to my father again. And sometimes even to me in my 
middle teens. I remember references to Hegel from those times, too. 

Hegel was philosopher in residence at the University of Berlin during the years when 
Prussia was committing itself to forced schooling. It's not farfetched to regard Hegel as 
the most influential thinker in modern history. Virtually everyone who made political 
footprints in the past two centuries, school people included, was Hegelian, or anti- 
Hegelian. Even today many knowledgeable people have no idea how important Hegel is 
to the deliberations of important men as they debate our common future. 

Hegel was important wherever strict social control was an issue. Ambitious states 
couldn't let a single child escape, said Hegel. Hegel believed nothing happened by 
accident; he thought history was headed somewhere and that its direction could be 
controlled. "Men as gods" was Hegel's theme before it was H.G. Wells'. Hegel believed 
when battle cannon roared, it was God talking to himself, working out his own nature 
dialectically. It's a formidable concept. No wonder it appealed to men who didn't labor, 
like Mr. Morgan or Mr. Rockefeller or Mr. Carnegie yet who still disdained easeful 
luxury. It engaged a printer's attention, and a little boy's, too. 

When I began to teach, I took the lessons of Monongahela and my two families to heart. 
The harder I struggled to understand myself, the better luck I had with other people's 
kids. A person has to know where his dead are buried and what his duty is before you can 
trust him. Whatever I had to teach children is locked up in the words you just read, as is 
the genesis of my critique of forced schooling. 

Chapter Eleven 

The Struggle for Homogeneity 

The thesis I venture to submit to you is as follows: That during the past forty or fifty years 
those who are responsible for education have progressively removed from the curriculum 
of studies the Western culture which produced the modern democratic state; That the 
schools and colleges have, therefore, been sending out into the world men who no longer 
understand the creative principle of the society in which they must live; That deprived of 
their cultural tradition, the newly educated Western men no longer possess in the form 
and substance of their own minds and spirits and ideas, the premises, the rationale, the 
logic, the method, the values of the deposited wisdom which are the genius of the 
development of Western civilization; That the prevailing education is destined, if it 
continues, to destroy Western civilization and is in fact destroying it. 

I realize quite well that this thesis constitutes a sweeping indictment of modern education. 
But I believe the indictment is justified and here is a prima facie case for entering this 

— Walter Lippmann, speaking before the Association for the Advancement of Science, 
December 29, 1940 

The Struggle For Homogeneity 

In 1882, an Atlantic Monthly writer predicted a coming struggle for preservation of the 
American social order. European immigrants were polarizing the country, upsetting the 
"homogeneity on which free government must rest." That idea of a necessary 
homogeneity made it certain that all lanes out of the 1880s led to orthodoxy on a national 
scale. There was to be an official American highway, its roadbed built from police 
manuals and schoolteacher training texts. Citizens would now be graded against the 
official standard, up to the highest mark, "100 percent American." 

In the thirty years between 1890 and 1920, the original idea of America as a 
cosmopolitan association of peoples, each with its own integrity, gave way to urgent calls 
for national unity. Even before WWI added its own shrill hysterics to the national project 
of regimentation, new social agencies were in full cry on every front, aggressively taking 
the battle of Americanization to millions of bewildered immigrants and their children. 

The elite-managed "birth-control" movement, which culminated one hundred years later 
in the legalization of abortion, became visible and active during this period, annually 
distributing millions of pieces of literature aimed at controlling lower-class breeding 
instincts, an urgent priority on the national elitist agenda. Malthus, Darwin, Galton, and 
Pearson became secular saints at the Lawrence and Sheffield Scientific Schools at 
Harvard and Yale. Judge Ben Lindsey of the Denver Children's Court, flogging easy 

access to pornography as an indirect form of sterilization for underclass men, was a 
different tile in the same mosaic, as was institutional adoption. The planned parenthood 
movement, in our day swollen to billion dollar corporate status, was one side of a coin 
whose obverse was the prospering abortion, birth control, and adoption industries. In 
those crucial years, a sudden host of licensing acts closed down employment in a wide 
range of lucrative work — rationing the right to practice trades much as kings and queens 
of England had done. Work was distributed to favored groups and individuals who were 
willing to satisfy screening commissions that they met qualifications often unrelated to 
the actual work. Licensing suddenly became an important factor in economic life, just as 
it had been in royal England. This professionalization movement endowed favored 
colleges and institutes, text publishers, testing agencies, clothing manufacturers, and 
other allies with virtual sinecures. 

Professional schools — even for bus drivers and detectives — imposed the chastening 
discipline of elaborate formal procedures, expensive and time-consuming "training," on 
what had once been areas of relatively free-form career design. And medicine, law, 
architecture, engineering, pharmacology — the blue-ribbon work licenses — were suddenly 
rigorously monitored, rationed by political fortune. Immigrants were often excluded from 
meeting these qualification demands, and many middle-class immigrants with a 
successful history of professional practice back in Europe were plunged into destitution, 
their families disintegrating under the artificial stresses. Others, like my own family, 
scrambled to abandon their home culture as far as possible in a go-along-with-the-crowd 
response to danger. 

One of the hardest things for any present-day reader to grasp about this era was the 
brazenness of the regimentation. Scientific management was in its most enthusiastic 
public phase then, monumentally zealous, maddingly smug. The state lay under effective 
control of a relatively small number of powerful families freed by the Darwinian religion 
from ethical obligation to a democratic national agenda, or even to its familiar 
republican/libertarian antithesis. Yet those antagonists comprised the bedrock antinomies 
of our once revolutionary public order, and without the eternal argument they provoked, 
there was no recognizable America. 

Eugenics Arrives 

Between 1890 and 1920, the percentage of our population adjudged "feeble-minded" and 
condemned to institutional confinement more than doubled. The long-contemplated 
hygienic form of social control formulated by eighteenth-century German social thinker 
Johann Frank, "complete medical policing," was launched with a vengeance. Few 
intimidations are more effective than the threat of a stay in an insane asylum. Did the 
population of crazies really double in those three decades? The answer given by one 
contemporary was elliptically Darwinian: "Marriage of these inferiors is a veritable 
manufactory of degenerates." It could no longer go unchecked. 

The American Birth Control League 1 left no doubt about its plans. Its position, as 
expressed by Yale psychologist Arnold L. Gesell, was that "society need not wait for 

perfection of the infant science of eugenics before proceeding upon a course which will 
prevent renewal of defective protoplasm contaminating the stream of life. " Gesell's The 
Family and the Nation (1909), a thorough product of the new Zeitgeist, advocated 
"eugenic violence" in dealing with inferiors. According to Gesell, "We must do as with 
the feebleminded, organize the extinction of the tribe." [emphases added] 

Here was a far different promise of American life, a Connecticut Valley Yale-style 
pledge. Yet governors of the Birth Control League were acclaimed heroes in every 
progressive assembly. With this thrust, old-line Calvinism converted its theological 
elements into scientific truth, supported mathematically by the new Galtonian discipline 
of statistics. Yale was the most important command center for the reemergence of old- 
time Puritan religion, now thoroughly disguised behind the language of research 

The eugenics movement begun by Galton in England was energetically spread to the 
United States by his followers. Besides destroying lesser breeds (as they were routinely 
called) by abortion, sterilization, adoption, celibacy, two-job family separations, low- 
wage rates to dull the zest for life, and, above all, schooling to dull the mind and debase 
the character, other methods were clinically discussed in journals, including a 
childlessness which could be induced through easy access to pornography. 2 At the same 
time those deemed inferior were to be turned into eunuchs, Galtonians advocated the 
notion of breeding a super race. 

Humanist Scott Nearing wrote his masterpiece, The Super Race: An American Problem, 
in 1912, just as the drive to destroy an academic curriculum in public schools was 
reaching its first crescendo. By "problem," Nearing wasn't referring to a moral dilemma. 
Rather, he was simply arguing that only America had the resources to meet the 
engineering challenge posed in creating supermen out of genetic raw stock. 

'The early manifestation under Margaret Sanger's influence of the organization, which eventually changed its name to Planned Parenthood. 

'As mentioned previously, this was Judge Ben Lindsey's idea; Lindsey was the man often credited with perfecting Children's Court 
procedures, particularly suspension of defendants' customary legal rights. 

Mr. Hitler Reads Mr. Ford 

The "visionary" theories soon to be imposed on America belie our myth of the melting 
pot as some type of spontaneous sociological force. The two great mass immigration 
periods (1848 to 1860 and 1871 to 1914) posed a threat to the course of national 
development that was underway. The unique American experience of creating a 
particular New World culture was still too green, too recent a historical phenomenon to 
tolerate the sophisticated competition of pluralism. A cosmopolitan society like that of 
fifth-century Roman England wasn't possible for America to accept without damaging its 

The possibilities inherent in a bazaar society were at once exciting and anxiety provoking 
to Americans, just as they were to Horace Mann. Yet beneath a sophisticated mask and a 

veneer of cosmopolite civility certain factions sought release from their uneasy 
ambivalence. There was only one realistic solution to human variability, the solution of 
the Order of the Star- Spangled Banner (popularly called "The Know Nothing Party"), 
"You must be as we are." Those who surrendered to such pressure, as many newcomers 
did, were ultimately worse off than those who insulated themselves in ghettos. 3 

Some pages back I referred to the brazenness of our new social arrangements, a sense of 
vulgar pushiness the reader senses radiating from various temples of reform. In some 
crazy way the ornamentation of the period carries the flavor of its arrogance. It prepares 
us to understand the future — that time in which we now live, our own age where "home 
cooking" means commercially homogenized food product microwaved, where an entire 
nation sits down each evening to commercial entertainment, hears the same processed 
news, wears the same clothing, takes direction from the same green road signs, thinks the 
same media-inculcated thoughts, and relegates its children and elders to the same 
scientific care of strangers in schools and "nursing homes." 

A signpost of the times: in 1920, the Henry Ford Publishing Company distributed 2 
million free copies of its recent best seller to all libraries and all schools in the nation. 
The book: The InternationalJew : World's Foremost Problem. Adolf Hitler was still a 
poor war hero, living in Munich with Ernst Hanfstaengel, the half- American Harvard 
graduate whose mother was one of the legendary New England Sedgwicks. Hitler had 
Hanfstaengel read Ford's book to him. In the pages of Mew Kampf, Ford is lavishly 
praised. Of Ford's other efforts to define the 100 percent American, at least one more 
deserves special mention. Speaking and writing English had very little to do with work 
on a Ford assembly line, but Ford decided to make English-language classes compulsory. 
The first thing foreign-speaking Ford employees learned to say: "I am a good American." 

Ford students were graduated in a musical extravaganza that bears close attention as an 
indicator of the American spiritual climate after WWI. A huge black pot took up the 
middle of a stage, from which hung a large sign that read "MELTING POT." From 
backstage an endless procession of costumed immigrants descended into the pot on a 
ladder reaching into its bowels. Each wore a sign identifying his former homeland. 
Simultaneously, from either side of the pot two other streams of men emerged, now 
converted into real Americans, dressed in identical clothing. Each waved a small 
American flag while a brass band played "America the Beautiful, "fortissimo. Wives and 
children cheered wildly when cue cards were flashed. 

It was nothing short of marvelous that world champion Jew-baiter Henry Ford, architect 
of the most opulent and sinister foundation of them all, 4 major player in the 
psychologization of American schooling, was a closet impresario in the bargain! Ford 
completed America's philanthropic circle. Three great private fortunes were to dominate 
early twentieth-century public schooling — Carnegie's, Rockefeller's, and Ford's — each 
with a stupendous megalomaniac in charge of the checkbook, each dedicating the power 
of great wealth not to conspicuous consumption but to radical experiments in the 
transformation of human nature. The hardest lesson to grasp is that they weren't doing 
this for profit or fame — but from a sense of conviction reserved only for true believers. 

There was no room in America for the faint-hearted. If a man wanted to be 100 percent 
American, he had to reject his original homeland. Other Americanizing themes were 
heard, too. General Leonard Wood growled that the Prussian practice of "Universal 
Military Service" was the best means to make the unassimilated "understand they are 
American." By the time I graduated from high school in 1953, universal military training 
took me away to Kentucky and Texas, to become an American, I suppose. After 
government school, government army, and Anglican Columbia were through with me, I 
had lost the map to get back home. 

All over the American Midwest, "Fitter Families Competitions" were held at state fairs 
and expositions, ranking American families by objective criteria, much as hogs or cattle 
are ranked. Winners got wide play in the press, ramming the point home to immigrant 
families that the mustard would be cut in the land of the Star-Spangled Banner by 
mathematical checklist attention to recipes and rules. After all, God himself had probably 
been a research scientist, or so William Rainey Harper, president of the University of 
Chicago, declared to the nation. 

This process of very slow assimilation into settled groups is a pattern everywhere, particularly noticeable 

in smaller communities where it may take two or three generations or even longer for a new family to be incorporated into the most intimate 
society. Ghettos often serve well as mediators of transition, while the record of professional social agencies in this regard is disastrous. 

4 Many people I meet consider the Ford Foundation a model of enlightened corporate beneficence, and al- 
though Jesse Jackson's "Hymietown" remark ended his serious political prospects in America, Ford's much deeper and more relentless scorn 
for those he considered mongrel races and religions, particularly the Jews, has long been forgiven and forgotten. On July 30, 1938, the Hitler 
government presented Henry Ford with the Grand Cross of the Supreme Order of the German Eagle. Only three other non-Germans ever got 
that honor and Benito Mussolini was one of them. 

Racial Suicide 

Francis Amasa Walker, president of M.I.T., first declared in 1891 what was soon to 
become an upper-class mantra: Anglo-Saxons were quietly committing "racial suicide." 
The insult of competing with Latin/Slav/Celtic folkways seemingly discouraged 
reproduction among families of the old stock. After that bombshell, an orchestrated 
campaign of scientific racism swept the United States and didn't flag in public energy for 
forty long years. Racial suicide was the Red Scare, Fifth Column, and AIDS epidemic of 
its day all rolled into one. In the long history of manufactured crises, it ranks up there 
with the Reichstag fire, Pearl Harbor, the Gulf of Tonkin, the gasoline shortage of 1973, 
the Asian economic miracle, and corporate downsizing as a prime example of modern 
psychological management of public opinion. The racial suicide theme sounded at 
exactly the moment public schooling was transforming itself into forced government 

The American campaign against racial suicide enlisted great scientists of the day to 
produce a full library of books, scientific journal articles, popular magazine pieces, 
legislation, lectures, and indirect school curricula. It caught the attention of the entire 
civilized world, including Imperial Germany and Imperial Japan. Both sent official study 
delegations to America to observe the resourcefulness of this new industrial Utopia in 
purging itself of its original democratic character. It is as if there exists some tacit 
understanding on the part of mainstream scholarship and journalism to steer clear of the 

shoals of this period, but even an amateur like myself finds enough to indicate that racial 
suicide provided a leading motive to justify the radical shift of American society toward 
well-schooled orthodoxy. What is intriguing in light of the relative amnesia concerning 
these connections is the sheer quantity of the damning data. Genetic experimentation, 
once teased from its hiding holes, is revealed as a master political project of the twentieth 
century with the United States, Germany, and England its enthusiastic sponsors. Data 
gathered in school surveys and social experimentation with children have been important 
sources of grist for this initiative. 

M.I.T.'s Walker got an intellectual boost from activities of the influential American 
sociologist Edward A. Ross, who explained to the American Academy of Political and 
Social Science exactly how unchecked Asiatic immigration would lead to the extinction 
of the American people. Higher races, he said, will not endure competition from lower 
ones. After that, even Teddy Roosevelt was issuing marching orders to Anglo-Saxon 
mothers, asking well-bred ladies to mobilize their loins in an effort to arrest the suicidal 
decline. Breed as if the race depended on it, said Roosevelt. Eugenics had openly become 
national politics for the first time in America, but hardly the last. 

Harper's Weekly chastised Roosevelt, saying mere exhortation would have no effect as 
long as immigration continued to reduce the native birthrate by insulting our best 
breeders. From 1905 to 1909 at least one major popular magazine article on the subject 
appeared every single month. Books warned that race suicide would "toll the passing of 
this great Anglo-Teuton people," giving the nation over to Latins, Slavs, or worse, Jews 
and other Asiatics. 

Meanwhile, the long-ignored genetic work of monk Gregor Mendel was conveniently 
rediscovered, adding more fuel to the fires of racial thinking. Here, presumably, a humble 
man of God showed mathematically that something caused transmission of characteristics 
from generation to generation, independent of any effect of nurture or education. Horse, 
dog, and rose breeders had empirically derived these insights a thousand years before 
Mendel, but credit passed to science for the "discovery." 

Into the center of this racial excitement strode the formidable figure of Sir Francis 
Galton, first cousin of Charles Darwin, in line of descent from Malthus, 5 possessor of 
incredible intellectual ability and indefatigable energy, a man of great personal wealth, a 
knight of the realm. Galton preached improvement of the human breed with evangelical 
fervor, demanding a policy of biological positivism which would produce the same 
genetic dividends that were being reaped by positivism in the hard sciences of chemistry 
and physics. The "eugenics movement," as it was now called, would save us socially by 
manipulating the best to breed (positive eugenics) and encouraging the worst to die out 
(negative eugenics). School would have a major role to play in this. Race-improvement 
was in the air, its method compounded out of state action and forced schooling. 

Gabon's inspiration and plenty of American money — much of it Andrew Carnegie's and 
Mrs. Averill Harriman's — opened the first racial science laboratory in the world in Cold 
Spring Harbor, Long Island, in 1904. And kept it open for thirty-five years, until Hitler's 

invasion of Poland made discretion seem the wiser part of zealotry for the moment at the 
Carnegie Corporation. In 1939, it was quietly shut down. The last president at the Cold 
Spring Harbor facility was M.I.T. president Vannevar Bush, often called "The Father of 
the Atomic Bomb." Eugenic thinking injected energy into the exploding "mental 
hygiene" movement, too. Word went out to the recently erected national network of 
hospitals that it was okay to begin sterilizing mental defectives. This green light came 
complete with legislative licenses to decide who those defectives were — and freedom 
from any legal jeopardy. 

A scholarly book from M.I.T. created intellectual havoc in the year 1899 and long 
afterwards, lending maximum credibility to the eugenicist agenda. The Races of Europe 
was written by brilliant economist William Z. Ripley; it armed the racial-suicide crowd 
and its companion group of enthusiasts, the racial-science crowd, with information that 
Europe was divided into three races, easily distinguishable from one another by physical 
measurements . First, a race of blonde long heads (the Teutons); second, a central race of 
stocky round heads (the Alpines); and third, a southern race of slender, dark long heads 
(the Mediterraneans). Here, finally, was a way to distinguish reliably among the qualities 
of old immigration and new! Ripley took the 28-year-old Darwinian concept of 
"reversion" and charged it with new energy. 

Was it possible, Ripley asked, that promiscuous breeding of Nordic peoples with 
Southern Europeans could doom the New England Anglo-Nordic stock? Incipient race 
suicide could be dealt with only by legislation. Education should be employed to raise the 
current immigrant's "standard of morality," making him more tolerable to society. That 
would help. But nothing could be done about reversion. Subspecies of men could not be 
allowed to couple with 100 percent American female breeding stock. 

All the pieces were now in position for full-scale national hysteria to commence, an era 
of sanctions buttressed by the authority of peerless scientific experts. American society 
would require harsh discipline after the Prussian fashion in order to meet this challenge. 
Thanks to men like Ripley, the experts could apply such discipline with an exalted sense 
of mathematical righteousness. The first requirement would be to force the dangerous 
classes into schools. Laws were on the books, time to enforce them. 

A covert American sterilization program managed by trusted administrators in the brand 
new hospital network took place during the same years that forced schooling was being 
brought along. This sterilization initiative occasionally broke silence in highly specialized 
journals whose reader discretion was taken for granted. Thus Charles V. Carrington, 
writing in the Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science (July 1910), 
reported on two interesting cases of successful involuntary sterilization. One involved an 
"epileptic masturbator" who, after vasectomy, "ceased masturbating altogether." The 
other was a black man also given to masturbation and general deviltry. After sterilization, 
he became "a strong, well-developed young Negro, nicely behaved, and not a 
masturbatory sodomist," Carrington reported. Surgical intervention as social policy was 
given its precedents in America long before the Nazi era. 

Advocates of Yaleman Gesell's "eugenic violence" offensive against the underclasses 
swung from every point on the scientific compass. William McDougall, the eminent 
social psychologist, announced himself a champion of Nordic superiority; Ellsworth 
Huntington, prominent Yale geographer, wrote The Character of Races, showing that 
only one race had any real moral character. Henry Fairfield Osborn, president and 
founder of the American Museum of Natural History, gave the "Address of Welcome" to 
the Second International Congress of Eugenics; Osborn's close friend Lothrop Stoddard 
wrote The Revolt Against Civilization: Menace of the Underman; and psychologist James 
McKeen Cattell, a force in the rise of standardized testing, wrote to Galton, "We are 
following in America your advice and example." 

The famous humanitarian anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber remarked acidly to a 
newsman that anti-eugenic protests came only from the "orthodoxly religious," rarely 
from the enlightened camp of science. So there it was. Keep them all in mind: Kroeber, 
Gesell, Ripley, McDougall, Huntington, Osborn, great scientific humanist names whose 
work underscored how important a role forced schooling was designed to play. Scientific 
studies had shown conclusively that extending the duration and intensity of schooling 
caused sharp declines in fertility — and sterility in many. Part of school's stealth 
curriculum would be a steady expansion of its reach throughout the century. 

Two more examples will drive home the relentlessness of this long scientific campaign 
against American tradition. J.B.S. Haldane, a distinguished Fabian geneticist from 
England, issued a lurid warning about what might happen if blonde women bred with 
human demi-apes like Italians, Jews, and other kinds of retrograde biology: "A new type 
of submen, abhorred by nature, ugly as no natural product is ugly" would emerge. The 
new hypothesis held that female offspring of such unions would be too repulsive to look 

In Daedalus, or Science and the Future, Haldane said there were really only four 
fundamental biological innovations of prehistory: 1) Domestication of animals; 2) 
Domestication of plants; 3) The use of fungi for the production of alcohol; 4) The 
invention of frontal copulation "which altered the path of sexual selection, focused the 
attention of man as a lover upon woman's face and breasts, and changed our ideal of 
beauty from the steatopygous Hottentot to the modern European, from the Venus of 
Brassenpouy to the Venus of Milo." 

All evolution might be in jeopardy if there were no more pretty faces to look at, this was 
the thesis. Today, there is an aura of the absurd to these assertions, but it would be well to 
reflect on the institutional world that emerged from the other end of this same forge, for it 
is the new moral world you and I live in, a fully scientized and organized society, 
managed by the best people — people who prefer to remain out of sight of the hoi polloi, 
segregated in their own in walled villages and other redoubts. 

5 Not quite as sinister as it sounds. Virtually all distinguished English names bear a family relationship toone another; its privileged classes, like 
those of other nations like Germany (or Japan) constitute a protected breeding stock in which intermarriage is not just common, but de rigeur, 
one might say with only a trace of mischief Indeed, in a genealogy text whose title I've long forgotten, I learned from the author (alas 
forgotten, too) that two thirds of all American presidents stood in an easily traceable family relationship to one another. See Chapter Twelve for 
more enlightenment on this score. Or simply ponder the meaning of this: After the 2004 presidential nominations have been decided, if Senator 

Kerry of Massachusetts is the Democratic nominee and George W. Bush the Republican, then five presidential terms in a row will have been 
served by men with a Yale degree when the eventual victor's term is complete! And three if those terms will have featured a president who was 
a member, while at Yale, of a tiny secret society, Skull & Bones, which only accepts fifteen members a year. On this score, either Bush or 
Kerry will serve equally well as both are Yale graduates and both Skull & Bones initiates. 

The Passing Of The Great Race 

No discussion of the dreamlike years of overt American scientific racism and schooling 
would be complete without a nod to the ghost of Madison Grant, who has mysteriously 
vanished from the pages of some standard biographical references, though they still carry 
his cousins, Grant the portrait painter and Grant the educator. No matter, I shall tell you 
about him. If you have ever been to the Bronx Zoo 6 you have been a guest of Mr. Grant's 
beneficent imagination, for he was its founder and the founder of its parent, the New 
York Zoological Society. The Bronx Zoo, its fame and good works inspire worldwide 
gratitude. Grant's legacy to us, as free libraries were Carnegie's. 

Grant was a lifelong bachelor, a childless man. Like many people associated with public 
schooling on a policy level, Grant came from a patrician family which had graced society 
from colonial days. No Grant ever held a menial job. Madison Grant was considered a 
leading scientific naturalist of his time. His monographs on the Rocky Mountain goat, the 
moose, and the caribou are little classics of their kind, still consulted. Men and women 
related to Grant have been directors of American society since the Age of the Mathers. 

Grant was deeply disgusted by the mixing of European races underway here; he believed 
the foundation of our national and cultural life lay in racial purity and backed this opinion 
with action. It is hardly possible to believe some of this attitude didn't enter into the 
museum's presentation of data and even into those hundreds of thousands of school field 
trips. In Grant's competent hands, the boldness and sweep of old Anglo-Saxon tradition 
was fused into a systematic worldview, then broadcast through books and lectures to the 
entire planet. His magnum opus appeared in 1916 bearing the epic title The Passing of the 
Great Race, with an introduction by Museum of Natural History luminary Henry 
Fairfield Osborn — a man who wrote one of the texts I used myself as a junior high school 

The Passing of the Great Race warns that the ruling race of the Western world is 
beginning to wane because of a "fatuous belief that environment can alter heredity. 7 The 
clear connection to the predestination canon of Calvin and to the great Norse tradition of 
implacable Fate is unmistakable. Grant's own genealogy came from both these strains in 
European history. Whatever else he was, Grant was neither dull nor commonplace. Using 
Darwin and Mendelian genetics to support his argument, Grant said flatly that different 
races do not blend, that mixing "gives us a race reverting to the more ancient and lower 
type." A "cross between any of the three European races and a Jew is a Jew." 

Grant argued that culture is racially determined. Alpines have always been peasants, 
Mediterraneans, artists and intellectuals; but "the white man par excellence" was the 
Nordic blonde conqueror of the North: explorers, fighters, rulers, aristocrats, organizers 
of the world. In early America the stock was purely Nordic, but now swarming hybrids 
threatened it with destruction except in a few zones of racial purity like Minnesota. 

Madison Grant felt democracy as a political system violated scientific facts of heredity 
the same way Christianity did, by favoring the weak. This led inexorably to biological 
decadence. Even national consciousness might confuse one's rational first loyalty, which 
had to be race. This was the codex of the Bronx Zoo's founder. Six years after its 
publication, The Passing of the Great Race was still in print and Grant's New York 
Zoological Society more respectable than ever. Eventually Margaret Mead was 
beneficiary of considerable patronage from Grant's Museum of Natural History, as 
indeed the whole shaky new community of anthropological thought became. Although 
Mead's work appears to contradict Grant's, by the time the academic world began to 
push the relativism of Mead, Ruth Benedict, and other interpreters of primitive culture, a 
double standard had settled in on intellectual life in the United States and Europe. 

For those whose status was secured by birth, theories of inherited quality were available. 
For the great mass of others, however, the body of theory which paid off in foundation 
grants, the one driving modern political and economic development, was that corpus of 
studies exploring the notion of extreme plasticity in human nature, a pliability grading 
into shapelessness. If mankind were seen to be clay, radical social action justifying 
continuous intervention could surely bring Utopia within reach, while providing 
expanding opportunities to academics. The academic marketplace eagerly supplied 
evidence that quality was innate to the powerful, and evidence that human nature was 
empty to the rest of us. 

6 As five hundred thousand school trips to date have been. 

Simplified, the belief that human nature could be changed, complicated enormously by a collateral belief 

that there are a variety of such natures, correlated with race and other variables. As I warn elsewhere, these men used the concept "race" in a 
more intimate way than contemporary ears are used to. As Grant would have viewed things, "white" or "Caucasian" is subject to many 
subdivisions, each of which has a value rank. The "great race" in America is Aryan. One very influential tome of the 1920s, for instance, was 
Joseph Widney's two-volume Race Life of the Aryan People. Widney was a founder of the University of Southern California. 

The Poison Of Democracy 

The spring used to classify the U.S. population in an unprecedented and very radical way 
as WWI. Prior to the war, eugenicists evaluated racial and national groups by comparing 
numbers of one group or another on "lists of distinction," 8 but they had no way of 
penetrating the secret inner spaces of consciousness. On the verge of the world war the 
new social discipline of psychology, struggling to attain a status of hard science, claimed 
to be able to change all that. It boasted of a power to go deep into the hidden regions of 
the brain. The new techno-miracle of the day was the invention of a mysterious 
"intelligence test," an "IQ" score which allegedly could place secrets of intellectual power 
at the disposal of managerial science. 

The just assembled American army of WWI was soon subject to mass intelligence 
measurement under the direction of Robert M. Yerkes, president of the American 
Physiological Association, an organization recently invented by Wundtian protege G. 
Stanley Hall. Results published after the war showed remarkable correlation with similar 
tests on American school children. While Yerkes was reporting these findings to the 
National Academy of Sciences, famous psychologist Dr. William McDougall was 

summarizing the civilian studies for the general public in his book, Is America Safe for 
Democracy? Latins and Slavs in fair mental competition scored significantly lower than 
native whites, he said. How, then, could they be given a vote equal to white men? 

McDougall claimed that hard data unmistakably revealed that a racial interpretation of 
history was the correct one. In his bookyl Study of American Intelligence, psychologist 
Carl Brigham concluded in 1923 that "the intellectual superiority of our Nordic group 
over Alpine, Mediterranean and Negro groups has been demonstrated." 

After 1922, racism was a truth of science. Word quickly spread into every corner of 
Europe; but particularly in defeated Germany, ancient Teutonic barrier against Slavic 
incursion, these new truths were enthusiastically discussed. General agreement confirmed 
Nordic superiority. The popular writer Kenneth Roberts {Northwest Passage) took up the 
cry. One of America's foremost novelists, he lectured American book dealers from the 
pages of the specialist journal Bookman that "the Alpine school of fiction" spread the 
poison of democracy through the whole culture. School texts were appropriately adjusted. 
Roberts identified himself, as you may already have guessed, as 100 percent Nordic. 

Now intelligence tests were huckstered in school district after school district; fortunes 
accrued to well-placed pedagogical leaders and their political allies. Every child would 
now be given a magical number ranking it scientifically in the great race of life. School 
grades might vary according to the whim of teachers, but IQ scores were unvarying, an 
emotionless badge of biological honor or shame, marking innate, almost unchanging 
ability. Millions of tests administered annually to primary and secondary students would 
prove the "value rank" of the American peoples. Mental ages were dutifully entered on 
permanent record cards with as much assurance as Horace Mann, Barnas Sears, 
WilliamTorrey Harris, John Dewey, and G. Stanley Hall had accepted skull maps drawn 
by their favorite phrenologists. 

Every day science seemed to make it clearer and clearer that forcing everyone to fit the 
Anglo-Saxon mold was indeed doing humanity a mighty favor. If children couldn't be 
biologically Anglo/Nordic, they could be so acculturated at least partly that way, through 
regular drill. After all, hadn't psychology proven how malleable human nature was? 
Henry Fairfield Osborn stepped forward from his duties at the American Museum of 
Natural History to announce portentously that Christopher Columbus — always a choking 
point (as a Latin) for America's cultural leadership — was actually Nordic. 

8 An invention of Galton. 

The American Protective League 

By the first year of WWI, American political leadership was ferreting out disloyalty and 
enforcing scientific conformity. Any number of private and secret societies appeared to 
forward this cause. The "Anti-Yellow Dog League" was one of these, composed of 
schoolboys above the age often, who searched out disloyalty each day from one of its 
thousand branches nationwide, barking like German shepherds when a disloyal yellow 

dog, otherwise someone looking like you or me, was flushed from cover and branded. 
Schools enthusiastically cooperated in "Dog Hunts," as they were called. 

The U.S. Justice Department secretly empowered private associations as volunteer spy- 
hunters. One, the American Protective League (APL), earned semi-official status in the 
national surveillance game, in time growing to enormous size. Founded by a Chicago 
advertising man, the APL had twelve hundred units functioning across America, all 
staffed by business and professional people. It was a genuine secret society replete with 
oath and rituals. Membership gave every operative the authority to be a national 
policeman. The first location placed under surveillance in every neighborhood was the 
local public school. Assignments were given by the old (Federal) Bureau of Investigation 
and by the War Department's Intelligence Division to report on "seditious and disloyal" 
conversation. From the authorized history of the APL comes this specimen case: 

Powers County, Colorado: investigated fifty cases of mouth-to-mouth propaganda, a 
notable cause being that of a German Lutheran minister who refused to answer the 
questions as to which side he wished to win the war. He asked for time. The next day he 
declared very promptly that he wanted the United States to win. He was instructed to 
prove this by preaching and praying it in private as well as in public, which he agreed to 

The APL checked up on people who failed to buy Liberty Bonds. It spotted violators of 
food and gasoline regulations, rounded up draft evaders in New York, disrupted Socialist 
meetings in Cleveland, broke strikes, threatened union men with immediate induction 
into the army. The attorney general of the United States reported to Congress, "It is safe 
to say never in history has this country been so thoroughly policed." (emphasis added) 
Nor, he might have added, the training of the young so well regulated. 

Guaranteed Customers 

Prior to 1860 Americans didn't demand a high level of national solidarity — a loose sort 
of catch-as-catch-can unity satisfied the nation in spite of the existence even then of 
patriotic special interest groups like Know-Nothings. Neither by geography, culture, 
common experience, or preference was the United States naturally a single country 
although it did possess a common language. But conformity had been ordered by 
corporate and banking interests from the Northeast, so one country it would become. 

Stupendous profits accrued to these interests from the Civil War, and its great lesson of 
national regimentation into squads, platoons, brigades, companies, regiments, and army 
corps was not lost on the winners. Warfare by its nature forces men to wear "value-ranks" 
openly for all to see, forces everyone to subordinate themselves to higher ranks, and 
higher ranks to subordinate themselves to invisible orders. War conditions men to rule 
and to be ruled. Modern war creates a society far different in type and scale from the 
ragged and bizarre individuality which emerged out of the American Revolution. With 
everyone dressing alike, eating alike, and doing everything else alike, maximum profit 
can be derived from the use of mass-production machinery in an ideal environment where 

the goods of production are swiftly wasted, and military "consumers" are literally 
forbidden the right to refuse to consume! A soldier must wear his uniform, eat his food, 
fire his rifle. To guaranteed customers through psychological drills is the very essence of 
the corporate world about to come into being. 

Industrial Efficiency 

After the Civil War, the guaranteed customer was not a thing prudent businessmen were 
willing to surrender. Could there be some different way to bring about uniformity again 
without another conflict? Vast fortunes awaited those who would hasten such a jubilee. 
Consolidation. Specialization. These were the magical principles President Harper was to 
preach forty years later at the University of Chicago. Whatever sustained national unity 
was good, including war, whatever retarded it was bad. School was an answer, but it 
seemed hopelessly far away in 1865. 

Things were moving slowly on these appointed tracks when a gigantic mass of Latin, and 
then Slavic, immigrants was summoned to the United States to labor, in the 1870s and 
afterwards. It came colorfully dressed, swilling wine, hugging and kissing children, eyes 
full of hope. Latin immigration would seem to represent a major setback for the 
realization of any systematic Utopia and its schools. But a president had been shot dead in 
1865. Soon another was shot dead by a presumed (though not actual) immigrant barely 
fifteen years later. Rioting followed, bloody strikes, national dissension. It was a time 
tailor-made for schoolmen, an opportunity to manage history. 

The Americanization movement, which guaranteed forced schooling to its first mass 
clientele, was managed from several bases; three important ones were social settlement 
houses, newly minted patriotic hereditary societies, and elite private schools (which 
sprang up in profusion after 1880). Madison Grant was a charter member of one of the 
patriotic groups, "The Society of Colonial Wars." All compartments of the 
Americanization machine cooperated to rack the immigrant family to its breaking point. 
But some, like settlement houses, were relatively subtle in their effects. Here, the home 
culture was inadvertently denigrated through automatic daily comparison with the 
settlement culture, a genteel world constructed by society ladies dedicated to serving the 

Hereditary societies worked a different way: Through educational channels, lectures, 
rallies, literature they broadcast a code of attitudes directed at the top of society. Mainline 
Protestant churches were next to climb on the Americanization bandwagon, and the 
"home-missions" program became a principal gathering station for adoptable foreign 
children. By 1907 the YMCA was heavily into this work, but the still embryonic 
undertaking of leveling the masses lacked leadership and direction. 

Such would eventually be supplied by Frances Kellor, a muckraker and a tremendous 
force for conformity in government schooling. Kellor, the official presiding genius of the 
American-ization movement, came out of an unlikely quarter, yet in retrospect an entirely 
natural one. She was the daughter of a washerwoman, informally adopted out of poverty 

by two wealthy local spinsters, who eventually sent her to Cornell where she took a law 
degree through their generosity. After a turn toward sociology at the University of 
Chicago, Kellor mastered Harper's twin lessons of specialization and consolidation and 
set out boldly to reform America's immigrant families. 

Her first muckraking book, Out of Work, was published in 1904. For the next two years 
she drafted remedial legislation and earned her spurs lobbying. By 1906, she had Teddy 
Roosevelt's personal ear. Six years later, she was head of the Progressive Party's 
publicity department and research arm. Kellor, under William Rainey Harper's 
inspiration, became an advocate of industrial efficiency. She despised waste and disorder, 
urging that "opportunity" be rationalized and put under control — the first hint of School- 
to-Work legislation to follow in the waning decades of the century. Work and licenses 
should be used as incentives to build national unity. Discipline was the ticket, and for 
discipline, carrots were required as well as sticks. 

Charles Evans Hughes, then governor, made Kellor the first woman ever to head a state 
agency, appointing her director of the Bureau of Industries and Immigration in New 
York. By 1909, supported by prominent allies, she organized a New York branch of the 
North American Civic League, a Boston-based, business-rostered outfit intended to 
protect the national status quo from various foreign menaces. Under her direction, the 
New York branch developed its own program. It isn't clear how much of the Boston 
agenda they carried on — it had mainly involved sending agents into immigrant 
communities to act as industrial spies and to lead anti-strike movements — but in any case, 
by 1914 Kellor' s group was writing its own menu. 

It opened by demanding centralized federal action: Americanization was failing "without 
a national goal." Her new "Committee for Immigrants in America" thereafter proclaimed 
itself the central clearinghouse to unify all public and private agencies in a national 
spearhead to "make all these people one nation." When government failed to come up 
with money for a bureau, Miss Kellor's own backers — who included Mrs. Averill 
Harriman and Felix Warburg, the Rothschild banker — did just that, and this private entity 
was duly incorporated into the government of the United States! "The Division of 
Immigrant Education," while officially federal, was in fact the subsidized creation of 
Frances Kellor's private lobby. Immigrant education meant public school education, for it 
was to compulsion schooling the children of immigration were consigned, and immigrant 
children, in a reversal of traditional roles, became the teachers of their immigrant parents, 
thus ruining their families by trivializing them. 

When WWI began, Americanization took over as the great national popular crusade. A 
drive for national conformity pushed itself dramatically to the forefront of the public 
agenda. Kellor and her colleagues swiftly enlisted cooperation from mayors, school 
authorities, churches, and civic groups; prepared data for speakers; distributed suggested 
agenda and programs, buttons, and posters; and lectured in schools. When Fourth of July 
1915 arrived, 107 cities celebrated it as "Americanization Day," and the country 
resounded with the committee's slogan "Many Peoples, but One Nation." 

Now Kellor's organization transmuted itself into "The National Americanization 
Committee," shifting its emphasis from education to the breaking of immigrant ties to the 
Old World. Its former slogan, "Many Peoples, But One Nation," was replaced with a 
blunt "America First." In this transformation, children became the sharpest weapon 
directed at their parents' home culture. Kellor called Americanization "the civilian side of 
national defense." She appeared before a group of industrialists and bankers calling itself 
the National Security League to warn of coming peril from subversion on the part of 
immigrants. One of the most distressing anomalies confronting Kellor and the NSL was 
an almost total lack of publicizable sabotage incidents on the domestic front in WWI, 
which made it difficult to maintain the desired national mood of fear and anger. 

There is some evidence American social engineering was being studied abroad. Zamiatin's We, the horrifying scientific dystopia of a world 
government bearing the name "The United State," was published in Russia a few years later as if in anticipation of an American future for 

High-Pressure Salesmanship 

In 1916, the year of Madison Grant's Passing of the Great Race, Kellor published 
Straight America. In it she called for universal military service, industrial mobilization, a 
continuing military build-up, precisely engineered school curricula, and total 
Americanization, an urgent package to revitalize nationalism. America was not yet at 

President Wilson was at that time reading secret surveys which told him Americans had 
no interest in becoming involved in the European conflict. Furthermore, national 
sympathy was swinging away from the English and actually favored German victory 
against Britain. There was no time to waste; the war had to be joined at once. John 
Higham called it "an adventure in high pressure salesmanship." 

Thousands of agencies were in some measure engaged: schools, churches, fraternal 
orders, patriotic societies, civic organizations, chambers of commerce, philanthropies, 
railroads, and industries, and — to a limited degree — trade unions. There was much 
duplication, overlapping, and pawing of the air. Many harassed their local school 

At the end of 1917, Minnesota's legislature approved the world's first secret adoption 
law, sealing original birth records forever so that worthy families who received a child 
for adoption — almost always children transferred from an immigrant family of 
Latin/Slav/Alpine peasant stripe to a family of northern European origins — would not 
have to fear the original parents demanding their child back. The original Boston 
adoption law of 1848 had been given horrendous loopholes. Now these were sealed sixty- 
nine years later. 

Toward the end of the war, a striking event, much feared since the Communist 
revolutions of 1848, came to pass. The huge European state of Russia fell to a socialist 
revolution. It was as if Russian immigrants in our midst had driven a knife into our 
national heart and, by extension, that all immigrants had conspired in the crime. Had all 

our civilizing efforts been wasted? Now Americanization moved into a terrifying phase in 
response to this perceived threat from outside. The nation was to be purified before a red 
shadow arose here, too. Frances Kellor began to actively seek assistance from business 
groups to build what she called "the new interventionist republic of America." (emphasis 

At an unpublicized dinner meeting at Sherry's Restaurant near Wall Street in November 
1918, Frances Kellor addressed the fifty largest employers of foreign labor, warning them 
that Americanization had been a failure — that really dangerous times were ahead with 
Bolshevik menace concealed in every workplace. Kellor proposed a partnership of 
business and social work to "break up the nationalistic, racial groups." The easiest way to 
do that was to weaken close family life. Miss Kellor, whose upbringing had itself been an 
ambiguous one, was the perfect person to lead such a charge. 

At the Wall Street meeting, plans were laid for a semi-secret organization of 
Americanizers to be formed out of interested volunteers from major industrial 
corporations. An impressive amount of money was pledged at the initial meeting, the 
story of which you can follow in John Higham's classic account of our immigration 
years, Strangers in the Land. "The Inter-Racial Council" presented the external aspect of 
an eclectic public-spirited enterprise — it even recruited some conservative immigrant 
representatives as members — but, in fact, it was controlled by Kellor's backers. 

The IRC acted both as intelligence gathering office and propaganda agency. In its first 
year of existence, Kellor put together an association of advertisers to strong-arm the 
immigrant press into running anti-radical propaganda. Using this muscle, immigrants 
could be instructed from far away how to think and what to think about, while remaining 
unaware of the source of instruction because immediate pressure came from a familiar 
editor. Advertising revenue could be advanced, as well as withdrawn, providing both 
carrot and stick, the complete behavioral formula. 

There is some evidence American social engineering was being studied abroad. Zamiatin's We, the 

horrifying scientific dystopia of a world government bearing the name "The United State," was published in Russia a few years later as if in 
anticipation of an American future for everyone. 

A New Collectivism 

By 1919 a deluge of state legislation appeared, specifically designed to counteract 
rampant Bolshevism. Idaho and Utah established criminal penalties for failure to attend 
Americanization classes. Fifteen states ordered English to be the only language of 
instruction in all schools, public and private. Nebraska demanded that all meetings be 
conducted in English. Oregon required every foreign language publication to display 
prominently a literal English translation of its entire contents. In 1922, Oregon outlawed 
private schools for elementary school children, a decision reversed by the Supreme Court 
later in the Pierce vs. Society of Sisters case (1925). 

At the same time, or just a bit later, a new biology began to emerge — a molecular vision 
of life under the direction of the Rockefeller Foundation, a vision in which scientific 

interventions could and should be used deliberately, by the best people, to control 
biological and social evolution. With Rockefeller as a principal engine, the shared social 
view of corporate thinkers was comprehensively imposed, bit by bit, on academic 
science. Elite universities, with Caltech as leader, became sites for implementation of the 
Rockefeller project. It was, in the words of Lily Kay in {The Molecular Vision of Life), "a 
potent convergence of social agendas and scientists' ambitions." 

Eugenic goals played a significant role in conception and design of the new Rockefeller 
biology, to such a point that open discussion of purposes had eventually to be kept under 
wraps as a political liability, particularly when the great dictators of Europe appeared to 
be taking some of their cues from America. Molecular biology promised a politically 
safer, and even a more certain path to an eventual Utopia of social planning by elites, and 
one now properly "scientific," completely free of the embarrassing candor of eugenic 

The experience of these times gave reformers a grand taste for blood. Government 
intervention everywhere was proclaimed the antidote for dissent. Intervention took many 
unexpected shapes. For instance, the "Athlete's Americanization League" agitated 
intensely to provide free sports equipment for every public school with its battle cry: 
"Sports are the logical antidote for unrest." By the time national passion cooled, in every 
nook and cranny of American life new social organizations with powerful government or 
private sponsorship flourished. All fed on intervention into families for their 
nourishment, all clamored to grow larger, all schemed to produce political testimony of 
their value. A new republic was here at last, just as Herbert Croly'" had announced, and 
government school was to be its church. 

1 The new republic we were driving toward, according to Croly, bore little resemblance to either a republic 

or a democracy. It was to be an apolitical universe, a new Utopia of engineers and skilled administrators, hinted at by Bellamy, spun out further 
by Veblen in The Engineers and the Price System, and The Theory of Business Enterprise. A federal union of worldwide scope was the target, a 
peculiar kind of union of the sort specified in Cecil Rhodes' last wills, which established the Rhodes Scholarships as a means to that end. 
Politics was outdated as a governing device. Whatever appearances of an earlier democratic republic were allowed to survive, administrators 
would actually rule. A mechanism would have to be created whereby administrators could be taught the new reality discreetly so that continuity 
and progress could be assured. De Tocqueville's nightmare of an endlessly articulating, self-perpetuating bureaucracy had finally come to life. 
It was still in its infancy, but every sign pointed to a lusty future. 

Chapter Twelve 

Daughters of the Barons of Runnemede 

Membership Requirements 

Membership in the Society is composed of women who are of legal age and he lineal 
descendant of one or more of the twenty-five Barons, selected to enforce the Magna 
Carta, those Barons in arms from the date of King John 's Coronation until June 15, 
1215. Membership is by invitation only. Within the Society there is an Order of 
Distinction Committee composed of members who trace their ancestry to Knights of the 
Garter, Ladies of the Garter and Knights of the Bath. 
— Charter, Daughters of the Barons of Runnemede 

A Scientifically Humane Future 

In the founding decades of American forced schooling, Rockefeller's General Education 
Board and Carnegie's foundation spent more money on schools than the national 
government did. What can a fact like that mean? Because they possessed a coherent 
perspective, had funds to apply to command the energies of the ambitious, possessed a 
national network of practical men of affairs, and at the same time could tap a pool of 
academic knowledge about the management of populations held in the universities they 
endowed, these and a small handful of men like them commanded decisive influence on 
forced schooling. Other influences had importance, too, but none more than this 
commitment of a scientifically benevolent American ruling class whose oversight of the 
economy and other aspects of living was deemed proper because of its evolutionary merit 
by the findings of modern science. The burden of this chapter is to show how a national 
upper class came about, what was on its mind, and how schools were the natural vehicle 
it mounted to ride into a scientifically humane, thoroughly Utopian future. 

Exclusive Heredity 

At the end of the nineteenth century, an explosion in the creation of exclusive hereditary 
societies took place which couldn't have been predicted from the course of the American 
past. These peculiar clubs constituted the most flagrant leading edge of a broad-based 
movement to erect nothing less than a coherent national upper class whose boundary was 
drawn in bloodlines. This might be better understood as an early manifestation of the 
genetically charged environment of American life at the advent of the twenty- first 
century. This social enclosure movement produced orthodox factory schooling for the 
masses as one of its very first policy thrusts. It produced the licensing phenomenon which 
echoed the traditional right of English kings to confer a living on some loyal subjects by 
reserving good things for them which are denied to others. We have been wrestling with 

many other aspects of class- and caste-based government and society ever since we came 
out of this period. 

Evidence that this movement was organized to concentrate power within a Brahmin caste 
stratum is caught by the sudden ostracism of Jews from the ranks of America's leading 
social clubs in the decade and a half directly following Herbert Spencer's visit to 
America. This was far from business as usual. Jesse Seligman, a founder of New York's 
Union League Club, was forced to resign in 1 893 when his son was blackballed by the 
membership committee. Joseph Gratz, president of the exclusive Philadelphia Club 
during the Civil War, lived to see the rest of his own family later shunned from the same 
place. The Westmoreland in Richmond boasted a Jewish president in the 1870s, but soon 
afterwards began a policy of rigid exclusion; The University Club of Cincinnati broke up 
in 1 896 over admission of a Jewish member. The point is whatever was wrong with Jews 
now hadn't been wrong earlier. Who was giving the orders to freeze out the Jews? And 

The striking change of attitude toward Jews displayed by Bostonian blue blood and 
author Henry Adams is a clue to where the commands might have originated, since the 
Adams family can be presumed to have been beyond easy intimidation or facile 
persuasion. Adams'1890 novel Democracy illustrated the author's lifelong acceptance of 
Jews. Democracy featured Jewish characters as members of Washington society with no 
ethnic stigma even hinted at. In 750 intimate letters of Adams from 1858 through 1896, 
the designation "Jew" never even occurs. Suddenly it shows up in 1896. Thirty-eight 
years of correspondence without one invidious reference to Jews was followed by 
twenty-two years with many. After 1 896 Adams seemed to lose his faith entirely in the 
Unitarian tradition, becoming, then, a follower of Darwin and Spencer, a believer in 
privileged heredities and races. H.G. Wells' The Future in America (1906) called 
attention to the transformation the English writer witnessed on a visit to this country: 
"The older American population," said Wells, "is being floated up on the top of this 
immigrant influx, a sterile aristocracy above a racially different and astonishingly fecund 
proletariat...." That fecundity and that racial difference dictated that a second American 
Revolution would be fought silently from the Atlantic to the Pacific about a century ago, 
this time a revolution in which British class-based episcopal politics emerged victorious 
after a century and a quarter of rejection. 

Divinely Appointed Intelligence 

All through the British colonial history of America, the managerial class of these colonies 
was drawn from Church of England gentry and aristocrats. As you might expect, this 
leadership shared the British state church's creative distaste toward education — for the 
underclasses. And underclass then was a term for which the customary narrow modern 
usage is quite unsuitable. Every class not included in the leadership cadre was an 
underclass. The eye-topped pyramid on the back of our one-dollar bill catches the idea of 
such an episcopate beautifully: divinely appointed intelligence ruling the blind stones 

The episcopal rule of British America is well enough documented, yet it remains largely 
unremarked how many revolutionary leaders were still communicants of the Church of 
England — Russell Kirk estimated twenty-nine of the fifty- five delegates attending the 
Constitutional Convention of 1787. They may have been willing to push the mother 
country away, but their own attitude toward popular sovereignty was ambivalent. Little- 
known even today is the long private effort of Ben Franklin to induce British royal 
government to displace the Quaker Penns of Pennsylvania and take command of the state. 
Between 1755 and 1768, Franklin labored mightily at this, reluctantly abandoning his 
dream and jumping ship to the revolutionary conspirators just in time to save his own 
position. 1 After Braddock's defeat, Franklin joined forces with the influential Anglican 
priest William Smith in a venture they called "The Society for Propagating Christian 
Knowledge among Germans settled in Pennsylvania." This association, a harbinger of 
government schools to come, had nothing much to do with reading and counting, but 
everything to do with socializing German children as English. 

Braddock's defeat on the Monongahela was the straw that tipped America's influential 
Quakers into the Anglican camp; it joined two influential, socially exclusionary sects in 
bonds of mutual assistance. When the great explosion of elite private boarding academies 
took place in the late-nineteenth-century period when hereditarian societies were also 
forming (and for the same purpose), Episcopalian schools made up half the total of such 
schools, a fraction many times greater than their denominational share of population 
would have warranted. They still do. And Quakers, at present just 1/2,600 of the 
American population (.04 percent), control 5 percent of the inner circle of elite private 
boarding schools (many elite day schools, as well). This constitutes 125 times more 
participation than bare Quaker numbers would seem to warrant! A managerial class was 
circling the wagons, protecting its own children from the epic social conditioning yet to 
come, and perhaps from the biological menace Darwin and Galton had warned about. 

1 As little known as Ben's skullduggery is the fact that his only son was the Royal Governor of New Jersey, 
a loyal Church of England man who fled to England during the war and never spoke to his father again 
(until Franklin's life was nearly over) because of gentle Ben's treachery. Even then the breach between 
father and son could not be healed. 

The Paxton Boys 

How the decisive collaboration in which Quaker men of wealth felt driven by 
circumstance to seek protection from the Established Church of England happened in the 
months after Braddock's army was cut to pieces on October 16, 1755, is a fascinating 
story. The western frontier of colonial America promptly exploded, after the British 
defeat. Delawares and Shawnees attacked across western Pennsylvania, burning all forts 
except Pitt. By November they were across the mountains and the Susquehanna, and in 
January the whole frontier collapsed. Settlers fled, many running on until they reached 
Philadelphia, "almost crazy with anxiety." Scots-Irish Presbyterians on the Monongahela 
blamed their trouble on rich Philadelphia Quakers controlling the legislature who had 
prevented levies for frontier defense. 

An unauthorized Presbyterian militia hastily assembled, the notorious Paxton Boys, 
whose columns proceeded to march on Philadelphia! I can hardly do justice here to that 
lively time, except to remind you that Pennsylvania to this day is divided East/West. The 
net upshot of Braddock's fatal hauteur was to send Scots-Irish Presbyterians on the 
warpath against Quakers and to drive important Quaker interests into Tory arms for 
protection from their fellow Pennsylvanians. 

Thus at the very moment British authority and rigid class attitudes came into question for 
many Americans, conservative Quakers, conspicuously wealthy and in control of the 
mainstream press, became its quiet proponents. "I could wish," said Thomas Wharton 
(for whose Quaker family the business school is named at Penn), "to see that Religion 
[Anglicanism] bear the Reins of Government throughout the Continent." In the exact 
decade when Americans were growing most fearful of the rise of an American civil 
episcopate, these Friends "cheered the news of the growth of Anglicanism," according to 
Jack Marietta, the Quaker historian. So the dormant seeds for a delayed Anglican revival 
were buried in Pennsylvania/New Jersey/Delaware soil right from our national 
beginnings. And Philadelphia 

Soldiers For Their Class 

These buried seeds sent up no more than stunted shoots until the late nineteenth century, 
when skillfully induced mass immigration — cheap Catholic labor by the boatload — 
triggered a perceived need for emergency social action on an Anglican model. At that 
moment, casting about for a blueprint of order in the disturbing period of mass 
immigration, the new industrial and commercial elites discarded existing American 
models: the tentative intellectual meritocracy of the Unitarians, the rude nepotism of the 
Presbyterians, the libertarian democracy of the General Baptists, the proud 
communitarianism of Congregationalists and Quakers, the religiously centered 
communities of the pietists; all had to give way since all were both local and particular 
forms. None could accommodate a general habit of rule from afar very well. None was 
able to maintain tight enough class discipline. Congregationalists were closest to this 
ideal, but even they had radically weakened their own theological discipline with the 
Half-Way Covenant and then thoroughly liberalized themselves in the Second Great 
Awakening after 1795. None of these forms would do as a universal blueprint of stable 

Only one acceptable discipline had for centuries proven itself under fire, able to bend 
diverse, distant, and hostile peoples to its organization, and that was the Anglican 
Communion. In India, Africa, Asia, Canada, wherever the British flag flew, it had been 
capable of the hard decisions necessary to maintain a subordinated order and protect the 
privileges which accrue to those who manage the subordinate classes. 

Peter Cookson and Caroline Persell cast a great deal of light on the Anglican temper in 
their book Preparing For Power: America 's Elite Boarding Schools, particularly the 
turn-of-the-century period, which saw the creation of almost all of the 289 boarding 
schools that matter: 

The difference between a public school and an elite private school is, in one sense, the 
difference between factory and club. Public schools are evaluated on how good a product 
they turn out, and the measure of quality control is inevitably an achievement score of 
some kind.. ..[but] to compare public and private schools in terms of output really misses 
the point. 2 

Cookson and Persell, searching for reasons to explain the need for total institutions to 
train the young, concluded: "The shared ordeal of the prep rites of passage create bonds 
of loyalty that differences in background cannot unravel." 

Collective identity forged in prep schools becomes the basis of upper-class solidarity and 
consciousness, but sharing alone will not preserve or enhance a class's interest. As a 
group, members must be willing to exercise their power: 

The preservation of privilege requires the exercise of power, and those who exercise it 
cannot be too squeamish about the injuries that any ensuing conflict imposes on the 
losers. ...The founders of the schools recognized that unless their sons and grandsons were 
willing to take up the struggle for the preservation of their class interests, privilege would 
slip from the hands of the elite and eventually power would pass to either a competing 
elite or to a rising underclass. 

Private school students are enlisted as soldiers for their class, like Viking rowers, tough, 
loyal to each other, "ready to take command without self-doubt." Cookson and Persell 
say currently, "Boarding schools were not founded to produce Hamlets, but Dukes of 
Wellington. The whole point of status seminaries is the destruction of innocence. ..not its 

I hope this illuminates those esoteric membership requirements of the Daughters a bit. 
Whatever your personal outlook on such matters, you need to take seriously the creation 
of over a hundred new hereditary associations, associations with all the birthmarks of 
secret societies, which gestated and came to term in the decades froml870 to 1900 (or 
just outside that narrow compass), each designed that it might in a perfectly orderly, fair 
way, free of any emotional bias, exclude all unwanted breeding stock by the application 
of hereditary screening and at the same time concentrate biological and social excellence. 
In the same time frame, five of the Seven Sisters — the female Ivy League — opened their 
doors for the first time, concentrating the future motherhood of a new race for its class 

"The inner ring of these schools, which sets the standard for the rest, includes these eighteen: Groton, St. Paul's, Deerfield, Gunnery, Choate, 
Middlesex, Lawrenceville, Hotchkiss, St. George's, Kent, Hill, Episcopal High (not Episcopal Prep!), Andover, Exeter, Culver Military, Milton 
Academy, St. Marks, Woodberry Forest, and perhaps one or two more. About 52 percent of the elite boarding schools are connected with the 
Episcopal Church and 5 percent with the Quaker faith. 

Organizing Caste 

In Darwin's second important book, The Descent of Man, the fate in store for those 
liberal societies which allow mongrelization of the racial stock was made clear. They 

would fall prey to the ruthlessly evenhanded workings of evolution and devolve through 
reversion. The lesson of Descent was not lost on Boston, New York, Philadelphia, 
Chicago, or San Francisco. In one brief instant the rationale for a caste system was born 
and accepted. No merit system ever after could seriously breach the hereditarian barrier 
any more than it could budge the "scientific" bell-curve barrier. A biological basis for 
morality had been established. 

One of the hundred new hereditarian societies (all survive, by the way) was "The Aztec 
Club of 1847," cherishing those who participated in the Mexican War as commissioned 
officers, and their descendants. The Aztec Club actually anticipated the intense 
hereditarian period by a few years and so may be considered a pioneer. Had you been an 
Aztec at the founding dinner in 1880, you would have been at a table with President 
Grant and Jefferson Davis, as well as a fraternity of names engraved in legend. Presidents 
Taylor and Pierce and Generals Lee and Pickett were dead, or they would have been 
there, too. The Aztec Club of 1847. Not a single public schoolteacher of the nearly 3 
million in the United States has ever been on its rolls, I'm told. Are we in the presence 
here of some higher truth? 

The Society of California Pioneers was another of these new hereditarian bodies which 
came to exist in the narrow zone of time just before effective mass compulsion schooling. 
This particular society celebrates "those memorable pioneers whose enterprise induced 
them to become the founders of a new State." I don't think you ought to summon up a 
mental picture of some grizzled prospector to fit that enterprise. Leland Stanford's family 
better fits the bill. 

Here is a baker's dozen of other outfits to allow you to see more clearly the outlines of 
the new society rising like an English phoenix out of the ashes of our democratic 

The Order of Americans of Armorial Ancestry 

The Society of Mayflower Descendants 

The Society of Americans of Royal Descent 

The Daughters of the Utah Pioneers 

The Women Descendants of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery 

The Order of the First Families of Virginia 

The Order of the Crown of Charlemagne 

The Order of the Three Crusades, 1096-1 192 

The Descendants of Colonial Governors 

The Society of the Cincinnati 

The Society of Founders of Norwich, Connecticut 

The Swedish American Colonial Society 

The Descendants of Colonial Clergy 

The popular leviathans of this confederation of special blood were the National Society 
of the Sons of the American Revolution, which enrolled eleven of the next twelve 
presidents as members (Nixon was eligible but declined), and its sister society, the 

The yeast of Latin, Slavic, and Celtic immigration falling on the dough of Darwinism 
provoked the great families of the United States into building a ruling caste with a shared 
common agenda, a program for national and international development, and a schedule of 
social regulations to be imposed gradually on the future. If you can't deduce that program 
for yourself as it employs mass schooling, you might wish to write the Society of the 
Cincinnati for enlightenment. The sudden appearance of these associations, excluding 
from membership all non-Aryan immigrants, provides us with a sign this new caste had 
consciousness of itself as a caste. Otherwise, development would have been more 
gradual. It marks a great dividing line in American history. As the hereditarian wave 
rolled up the beach, even you could have designed the schools it was going to need. 

One thing missing from the Utopia of diverse hereditarian groups which were gathering — 
the scientific racists, the private clubs, schools, churches, neighborhoods, secret societies 
like Bones at Yale or Ivy at Princeton, special universities which served as a later stage in 
the elite recruitment and production cycle, 3 etc. — was a grand secular myth. Something 
less creepy than a naked assertion of successful protoplasm climbing up biological 
ladders out of the primordial slime was necessary to inspire the exclusive new 
establishment that was forming. Some stirring transcendental story to complete the 
capture and inspiration of the ruling-class mind. 

Such a thing had to be found and it was. The creation myth of American caste would 
appear unexpectedly in the form of an ancient language uniting the powerful classes of 
the United States into a romantic band of spiritual brothers, a story to which we turn next. 

3 Earlier I gave you a list of the inner-circle private boarding schools, the central ones of the 289 thatmatter most in the calculus of class. This 
seems as good a time as any to give you an inner circle of American colleges and universities. The sanctum of social power is found at these 
schools: Princeton, Brown, Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Georgetown, Duke, Cornell, Stanford, University of Virginia, University of Michigan, 
University of California (Berkeley), University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, Vanderbilt, Williams, 
Amherst, Colgate, and a tie between Boston College and Boston University. There are other knots of power, but if training of national 
leadership is the relevant issue, not the training of minds willing to serve as instruments of a national leadership, then the twenty I've taken are 
the heart of the heart of caste in America, much as the Monongahela Valley was the heart of the heart of libertarian America. 

Your Family Tree 

In 1896, Latin and Slavic immigration exceeded in body count for the first time the 
numbers arriving from the ancient lands of the Anglo-Saxons. In certain circles that was 
deemed a catastrophe second only to the Deluge. This moment had been anticipated for 
years, of course, and protections for good blood, or "the gene pool" as some preferred to 
call it, were popping like corn in the form of exclusionary associations you've seen and 
others like them. This was defensive. But other implements of war were being fashioned, 
weapons of offensive capability, social engines like modern factory schools, standing 
armies, social work empires designed to remake incoming aliens into shapes more 
agreeable to the spirit of the "Great Race," a term I'll explain in a moment. This 
machinery was grinding out "Americanized" Americans by 1913, just sixty-two years 
after the Know-Nothing Party of Massachusetts invented the term. 

New hereditary societies took a leading hand in Americanization. So did important 
monied interests. Chicago financial power got the Children's Court idea rolling at the 

beginning of the twentieth century, just as Boston railroad, mining, and real estate 
interests had initiated the compulsion school idea in the nineteenth. The Children's Court 
institution was nationalized rapidly, a most effective intimidation to use against 
uncooperative immigrants. Such courts soon displayed a valuable second side, supplying 
children to the childless of the politically better-connected sort with few questions asked. 
The similarity of this transfer function to the historic "Baby Trains" of Charles Loring 
Brace's "Children's Aid Society" fifty years earlier wasn't lost on the new breed of social 
engineer graduating from the right colleges in 1900. 

These new activist graduates, trained in the Chicago school of sociology and its 
anthropological variants by Ross, Cooley, Boas, and other seminal figures, had little 
sentimentality about individual destinies or family sovereignty either. All thought in 
terms of the collective improvement of society by long-range evolution. In the short run 
all were environmental determinists who believed protoplasm was wonderfully 
malleable, if not entirely empty. 

In 1898 the D.A.R., best known of all hereditarian societies, began issuing scientifically 
designed propaganda lectures on American history and government. By 1904, the Society 
of Colonial Dames was preparing school curriculum. In the same year, the Sons of the 
American Revolution distributed millions of pieces of historical interpretation to schools, 
all paid for by the U.S. Department of Commerce. The Social Register, founded 1887, 
quickly became a useful index for the new associational aristocracy, bearing witness to 
those who could be trusted with the exciting work underway. Tiffany's started a 
genealogy department in 1875 to catch the first business from elites made edgy by The 
Descent of Man and, as the century ended, genealogical reference books — the Gore Roll, 
Boston's American Armoury and Blue Book, and more — came tumbling off the assembly 
line to assist Anglo-Saxons in finding each other. 

As late as 1929, even with Mein Kampf in bookstalls telling the story of Aryans past and 
present, David Starr Jordan, president of Stanford, published his own guide to good 
blood, Your Family Tree. It provided in painstaking detail the descent of America's new 
industrial aristocracy, from monarchs of great Aryan houses. Abe Lincoln, Grover 
Cleveland, and John D. Rockefeller, said Jordan, came out of the house of Henry I of 
France; Ulysses S. Grant was in a line from William the Conqueror; Coolidge and 
Shakespeare descended from Charlemagne. William Howard Taft, J. P. Morgan, and 
Jordan himself from King David of Scotland! So it went. 4 Was this all just simple 
amusement or did the game have some implications for the rest of us not so blue- 
blooded? Who were these fabulous Aryans the scholars were talking about? What was 
this "Great Race"? The answers were to prove both fabulous and chilling. 

The Crane plumbing family rejected the coat of arms suggested for them, a hand gripping the handle of a toilet chain with the motto "Apres 
moi le deluge." 

The Fatal Sound Shift 

During the sixteenth century, a studious Italian merchant living in India pointed out to his 
wealthy friends some striking similarities between ancient Sanskrit and Italian: deva/dio 
for God, sarpa/serpe for snake, etc. All the Sanskrit numbers seemed related to the 

numbers of Italian. What could this mean? This early intuition came and went without 
much of a stir. 

Then in 1786, during the early British occupation of India, the subject was addressed 
anew. In his speech to the Bengal-Oriental Society that year, Sir William Jones 
announced he believed a family connection existed between Sanskrit and English. It was 
tantamount to the University of Rome splitting the atom. Sir William declared Latin, 
Greek, and Sanskrit sprang "from some common source which perhaps no longer exists." 
Among English and Sanskrit he showed evidence for "a stronger affinity than could 
possibly have been produced by accident." 

What common source might be the parent of Western civilization? Jones could not say, 
but only thirteen years later Sharon Turner's two-volume work, The History of the Anglo- 
Saxons, claimed to provide clues. There, replete with thousands of illustrations, was a 
record of Angles, Saxons, and Jutes out of ancient Germania as it had been preserved in 
song and story, Beowulf raised to a haunting power. Hundreds of cognates between 
modern English custom and ancient prototypes had been tracked by Turner; there seemed 
to be a stirring continuity between what Tacitus said about Germania and what upper- 
class English/ American eyes saw when they looked into their modern mirrors. 

The favorite occupations in antiquity were war, the chase, rough and tumble sports, 
wenching, and drinking, not unlike the preferences of contemporary Englishmen. When 
not thus engaged, men often lay idly about leaving all work for women to do. Gambling 
was common and every free man was expected to bear arms. Could the English be the 
mighty Aryans of prehistory? 

In 1808, Karl Wilhelm Frederick von Schlegel, founder and editor of the Athenaeum, 
chief voice of German romanticism, wrote a scientific study of Sanskrit which 
maintained that the languages of India, Persia, Greece, Germany, Italy, and England were 
connected by common descent from an extinct tongue. Schlegel proposed the name Indo- 
Germanic for the vanished dialect. We are forced, he said, to believe all these widely 
separate nations are descendants of a single primitive people's influence. Oddly enough, 
Schlegel learned Sanskrit himself at the hands of Alexander Hamilton, his close friend 
and a close friend to the Prussian government. Schlegel was highly esteemed by both 
Hamilton and the Prussia regime. 

To put yourself in touch with this exciting moment in recent history requires only a visit 
to a neighborhood library. The language and customs of this ancient Aryan people are 
caught in Vedic literature — the story of an invading people who forced themselves on the 
Indian subcontinent. As Americans had forced themselves on North American natives, a 
resonant parallel. Aryan literature was exclusively a literature of battle and unyielding 
hostility, the Vedas stirring hymns of a people surrounded by strangers alien in race and 

There could be no peace with such strangers; their destruction was a duty owed to God. 
Full of vigor, the Vedas breathe the attitudes of an invading race bent on conquest, a 

cultural prescription with which to meet the challenges of modern times. If only a way 
could be found to link this warrior people with the elites of England and America. 

In 1816, the brilliant young Danish scholar Rasmus Rask not only accepted the 
relationship of Germanic, Hellenic, Italic, Baltic, and Indo-Iranian, but went further and 
found the missing connection. Rask had seen something no one else had noticed: between 
some Germanic streams of language and the others a regular sound-shift had occurred 
transforming the sounds of B, D, and G into those of P, T, and K. It meant an absolute 
identification could be established between England and ancient Germania. Rask wasn't 
prominent enough to promote this theory very far, but the man who stole it from him 
was — Jacob Grimm of fairy-tale fame. In the second edition of Deutsche Grammatik 
(1822), Grimm claimed the sound shift discovery which to this day is called "Grimm's 
Law." Salons on both sides of the Atlantic buzzed with the exciting news. 

Our Manifest Destiny 

Now the Aryans became the Anglo-Saxons. Endings in Sanskrit, Persian, Greek, Latin, 
and Germanic showed how these people had moved across the world, said another 
German researcher, Franz Bopp. By 1820, a Gothic vogue was afoot. Even the bare 
possibility that some of us were offspring of a powerful race out of prehistory inspired 
enthusiasm, giving credence to the old Puritan notion of "Election," that America had a 
divine destiny as a people. This incredible Aryan drama, like the notion of evolution a 
few decades later with which it should be seen in collegial relation, almost instantly 
began to embody itself in more practical affairs of life. 

To New York State University regent John O'Sullivan, Grimm's tale was the long- 
awaited scientific proof of an American destiny, a Manifest Destiny, as he and 
innumerable voices that followed were to call it: 

The right of our manifest destiny is to overspread and to possess the whole of the 
continent which Providence has given up for the great experiment. 

In 1851, as Moby-Dick was coming off the press with its parable of Ahab, a year after 
The Scarlet Letter had plumbed the secrets of Puritan society, regent O'Sullivan 
personally equipped a war vessel for an attack on Cuba. O'Sullivan's Cleopatra was 
seized in New York harbor as she weighed anchor, disgorging several hundred armed 
Hungarian and German cutthroats, "Kossuth sympathizers," as the press mistakenly 
called them. Indeed, the scheme to "liberate" Hungary, nominally under Hungarian 
aristocrat Lajos Kossuth, had been hatched by the same Zeitgeist and in the same place, 
New York City. Charged with violating the Neutrality Act of 1818, O'Sullivan beat the 
rap. Cuba was safe for another forty-seven years until the battleship Maine blew up 
mysteriously in Havana harbor. 

Buried in the indestructible heart of this imported Aryan linguistic romance was ample 
justification for a national charter of bold expansionism. In spite of the fact that much of 
the American nation was empty still, it provided an inspiration to empire, as O'Sullivan's 

abortive sortie demonstrated, a racial mandate to enlarge areas of American influence, 
just as Aryans once had conquered as far as ambition could carry them. Race was the font 
of our national greatness. But how to preserve the Great Race from miscegenation? It was 
a question asked long before Darwin lent the query the authority of official science. 

The Lost Tribes 

As the exciting intelligence from Germany traveled through America, it encountered 
resistance, for America was a region where class lines were still elastic, based on 
accomplishment and worldly success, not upon guarantees cemented in blood. Yet the 
tide was running toward a different form of reckoning. Horace Bushnell, famous 
Congregationalist pastor of Hartford (where the city park is named for him) thundered 
from his pulpit in 1837 that noble Anglo-Saxon blood must be preserved against 
pollution. By 1843, the big book in Unitarian Boston was The Goths in New- England. 
German schooling seemed right for us because we were Germans! Germany held answers 
for the grandchildren of Englishmen, who had been Germans long ago. 

In 1848, at the height of the Irish Catholic menace, The American Whig Review published 
"The Anglo-Saxon Race." That same year The North American Review responded with 
"The Anglo-Saxon Race." Now the Whig Review stirred the pot with its own spoon, "The 
Anglo-Saxons and the Americans." Interest in the topic wouldn't quit, perhaps because 
The Origin of Species finally placed consideration of racial matters in public attention. 
Racial fervor was still at white heat in 1875 when a popular book, The Anglo-Saxon 
Race: Its History, Character and Destiny, traveled with Chautauqua to every corner of the 

The writings of William Henry Poole showed the Saxon race to be the lost tribes of 
Israeli To this day, most American Jews are unaware that a number of old-family Anglo- 
Saxons still consider themselves to be the real Jews — and the nominal Jews impostors! 
Between 1833 and 1852 Franz Bopp published book after book of his spectacular 
multivolume work Comparative Grammar, which drove any lingering skeptics to cover. 
The Aryans were real. Case closed. 

Whatever guardian spirit watches over such things assigned to Sir Henry James Sumner 
Maine, English comparative jurist and historian, the task of presenting Aryan tribal 
character and tying it to contemporary Anglo-Saxons. Maine graduated from Cambridge 
in 1844 with the reputation of being the most brilliant classical scholar of all time — 
Michael Jordan of legal history. His Ancient Law (1861) earned him a world-class 
reputation in one stroke. In a series of magnificent literary studies which followed, he 
brought to life the ancient world of Germania with singular felicity and power. Anglo- 
Saxons and Aryans lived again as one people. 

In the crucial year which saw Darwin's Descent of Man published, Maine's spectacular 
Village Communities in the East and West showed the world the rough-hewn genius of 
the primitive Anglo-Saxon world. Maine reiterated his contention that stranger-adoption 
was among the critical discoveries which led to Anglo-Saxon greatness. This message 

fell on particularly fertile ground in a New England whose soil had been prepared for this 
exact message by centuries of reading The New England Primer, with its grim warning 
that children are only loaned to their parents. 

And what a message Maine carried — society thrived when children were detached from 
their own parents and cultures! It was a potent foundation on which to set the institution 
of forced schooling. Appearing shortly after the radical Massachusetts adoption law 
intended to disassemble Irish immigrant families, Maine silenced the new institution's 
critics, paving the way for eventual resignation to long-term school incarceration, too: 

The part played by the legal fiction of adoption in the constitution of primitive society 
and the civilization of the race is so important that Sir Henry Sumner Maine, in his 
Ancient Law, expresses the opinion that, had it never existed, the primitive groups of 
mankind could not have coalesced except on terms of absolute superiority on the one 
side, and absolute subjection on the other. With the institution of adoption, however, one 
people might feign itself as descended from the same stock as the people to whose sacra 
gentilica it was admitted.... 

(Encyclopedia Britannica, 1 1th ed., "Adoption") 

In a grand stroke, Sir Henry provided enlightened justification for every form of synthetic 
parenting social engineers could concoct, including the most important, mass forced 

Unpopular Government 

Maine built a stronger case in each successive book, Early History of Institutions (1875) 
and Early Law and Custom (1883). His magnificent tour de force, Popular Government 
(1885), smashed the very basis for popular democracy. After Maine, only a fool could 
believe wow-Anglo-Saxon groups should participate as equals in important decision- 
making. At the same time, Maine's forceful dismissal of the fundamental equality of 
ordinary or different peoples was confirmed by the academic science of evolution and by 
commercial and manufacturing interests eager to collapse smaller enterprises into large 
ones. Maine's regal pronouncements were supported by mainstream urban Protestant 
churches and by established middle classes. Democratic America had been given its 
death sentence. 

Sir Henry's work became a favorite text for sermons, lectures, Chautauqua magazine 
journalism and for the conversation of the best people. His effect is reflected 
symbolically in a resolution from the Scranton Board of Trade of all places, which 
characterized immigrants as: 

The most ignorant and vicious of European populations, including necessarily a vast 
number of the criminal class; people who come here not to become good citizens, but to 
prey upon our people and our industries; a class utterly without character and incapable 

of understanding or appreciating our institutions, and therefore a menace to our 

Popular Government was deliberately unpopular in tone. There was no connection 
between democracy and progress; the reverse was true. Maine's account of racial history 
was accepted widely by the prosperous. It admirably complemented the torrent of 
scientifically mathematicized racism pouring out of M.I. T., Harvard, Stanford, Yale, and 
virtually every bastion of high academia right through the WWI period and even beyond. 
Scientific racism determined the shape of government schooling in large measure, and 
still does. 

Kinship Is Mythical 

Aryans, said Maine, were not overly sentimental about children. They maintained the 
right to kill or sell their children and carried this custom with them as they spread over 
the earth, almost up to the outskirts of modern Beijing. These Great Ones had an 
intensely practical streak, tending to extract from every association its maximum payoff. 

This pragmatism led them to extend privileges of kinship to every association in which a 
good chance of profit might lurk. This casual disregard of blood ties led to powerful 
alliances much more adaptable to local circumstance than any pure blood-allegiance 
system could be, such as the one the Japanese practice. In other words, Anglo-Saxons 
were prepared to call anyone "family" for a price. Similarly, Anglo-Saxon ties to priests 
and gods were mostly ceremonial. All rules, ethics, and morals were kept flexible, 
relative to the needs of the moment. This lack of commitment to much of anything except 
possessions allowed Aryans to overturn local ways in which people held to principles and 
to local faith. 

Pragmatism was an impressive and effective technological advance in politics, if not in 
morality. In the science of society, the leadership reserved the right to lie, cheat, deceive, 
be generally faithless wherever advantage presented itself, and not only to do these things 
to the enemy but to one's own people if need be — a moral code well suited to a fast- 
moving warrior people. But a price had to be paid. Over time, the idea of real kinship 
became more and more fictitious, family life characterized as much by ritual and 
ceremony as love. And in many places, said Maine, kinship, owing to mass adoption of 
children from conquered peoples, became mythical for whole clans. Nobody was who 
they said they were or thought themselves to be. 

It is surely one of the grim ironies of history that the root identity of American elites was 
crystalizing at the turn of the century around blood relationships to a warrior people so 
indifferent to blood relationships, they often had no idea who they really were. With 
Anglo-Saxons, the abstract principle always counted for more than flesh and blood. 

Once the character of the Aryans was known, there remained only the exciting task of 
establishing the homeland, the ancient forge of these virile conquerors. The behavioral 
ideals they willed their descendants — to impose upon lesser peoples — were written 

clearly enough on the chalkboards of the new schooling. Total submission led the list. 
But giving the Aryans a birthplace (assuming it was the right one) would complete the 
circle of triumph. To the elite mind, that job was over by 1880. The ancient ancestor 
could now be fixed by common agreement somewhere in the cold North around the 
Baltic Sea. Some said Scandinavia. Some said North-Central Germany. But the chief 
detectives holding the Anglo/ American franchise on truth homed in on that zone between 
the Elbe and the Oder Rivers, to the lands comprising the regions of modern Prussia! 

The Machine Gun Builds Hotchkiss 

The widow of the man who perfected the machine gun founded the Hotchkiss School; a 
Lowell and a Forbes funded Middlesex; the DuPonts were the patrons of Kent; St. 
George's was underwritten by the Brown family whose name graces Brown University; 
Choate looked to the Mellon family for generous checks; J. P. Morgan was behind 
Groton. Over 90 percent of the great American private boarding schools issued from that 
short period just after Herbert Spencer's American visit in 1882 and just before the 
indirect edict to the National Education Association that it must play ball with the de- 
intellectualization of public schooling, or it would be abandoned by America's business 

Elite private boarding schools were an important cornerstone in the foundation of a 
permanent American upper class whose children were to be socialized for power. They 
were great schools for the Great Race, intended to forge a collective identity among 
children of privilege, training them to be bankers, financiers, partners in law firms, 
corporate directors, negotiators of international treaties and contracts, patrons of the arts, 
philanthropists, directors of welfare organizations, members of advisory panels, 
government elites, and business elites. 

Michael Useem's post-WWII study showed that just thirteen elite boarding schools 
educated 10 percent of all the directors of large American business corporations, and 15 
percent of all the directors who held three or more directorships. These schools 
collectively graduated fewer than one thousand students a year. More spectacular 
pedagogy than that is hard to imagine. 

In England, the pioneer feminist Victoria Woodhull published The Rapid Multiplication 
of the Unfit. And in the States, Edward A. Ross, trained in Germany — University of 
Wisconsin pioneer of American sociology — was writing The Old World in the New, 
saying that "beaten members of beaten breeds" would destroy us unless placed under 
control. They were "subhuman." Ross was joined by virtually every leading social 
scientist of his generation in warning about the ill effects of blood pollution: Richard Ely, 
William Z. Ripley, Richard Mayo Smith, John R. Commons, Davis Dewey, Franklin 
Giddings, and many more. None disagreed with Ross. Morons were multiplying. The 
government had to be made aware of the biological consequences of social policy. 

But while beaten members of beaten breeds had to be zipped up tight in isolation, ward 
schools and neighborhoods of their own, watched over by social gospelers, settlement 

houses, and social workers trained in the new social science, a new American social 
dimension was being created from scratch in which the best people could associate freely, 
could rear children properly, could reap rewards they deserved as the most advanced 
class on the evolutionary tree. That was not only justice, it was prudent preparation for an 
even better biological future. 

The way the new shadow society, a universe parallel to the one everyone else could see, 
had to operate after it had first constructed for itself a theory of establishment and a 
theology of caste, was by creating a new social structure, corporate in nature, in which 
man was progressively defined by those with whom he affiliated, his synthetic, 
associational tribe — not by his independent talents and accomplishments. If these 
affiliations were only local, then status was correspondingly diminished; the trick was to 
progressively graduate to memberships which had regional, national, or even 
international status, and this associational prestige would then be transferred to the 
individual. What a perfect way of keeping out the riffraff and porch monkeys this would 
prove to be! 

It was no idle boast, nor was the statement a simple expression of snobbery, when John 
Lupton, director of development at the Choate School in Wallingford, Connecticut, said, 
"There is no door in this entire country that cannot be opened by a Choate graduate. I can 
go anywhere in this country and anywhere there's a man I want to see... I can find a 
Choate man to open that door for me," The crucial variables in identifying the right 
people in the new exclusionary America no longer included high-profile expressions of 
superiority. What they did include were: 1) Membership in the right metropolitan clubs. 
2) An address in the right neighborhoods. 3) A degree from the right college. 4) A 
membership in the right country club. 5) Attendance at the right summer resorts. 6) 
Attendance at the right churches. 7) Passage through the right private schools. 8) An 
invitation to the right hereditary association. 9) Involvement in the right charities. 10) 
Trusteeships, boards, advisory councils. 1 1) The right marriages, alliances, a social 
register listing. 12) Money, manners, style, physical beauty, health, conversation. 

I've made no attempt to enter subtleties of gradation, only to indicate how the ephors 
behind public schooling and virtually all significant decision-making in modern 
American society created, quite self-consciously, a well-regulated world within a world 
for themselves. Provision was made to allow some movement up from other classes. 
Clubs, for instance, were also agencies for assimilating men of talent and their families 
into an upper-class way of life and social organization. 

If we are unwilling to face how very far-reaching the effects of this American 
establishment are to schoolchildren, there is just no good way to think about school 
reform. 5 Darwin's evolutionary racism, Galton's mathematical racism, Maine's 
anthropological racism, Anglican theological racism/classism, all are deeply embedded in 
the structure of mass schooling and the economy it serves. They cannot he extirpated by 
rational discussion; these viruses are carried by institutional structures not amenable to 
social discussion. 

5 NeIson W. Aldrich, grandson of Senator Aldrich of Rhode Island, who was one of the principal architectsof the Federal Reserve system, put it 
this way in his book Old Money: "Membership in this patriciate brought with it much besides wealth, of course: complete domination of all 
educational and cultural institutions, ownership and control of the news media [and a variety of other assets]." Direct and indirect domination 
of the forced schooling mechanism by the patriciate has never been adequately explored, perhaps owing to its ownership of both the tools of 
research (in the colleges) and the tools of dissemination (in the media). 

Fountains Of Business Wealth 

The new American establishment of the twentieth century was organized around the 
fountains of wealth international corporate business provides. By 1900 huge businesses 
had begun already to dominate American schooling, and the metropolitan clubs where 
business was transacted lay at the core of upper-class authority in every major city in the 
nation. The men's club emerged as the principal agency where business agreements were 
struck and, indirectly, where school policy was forged. 

In 1959, Fortune magazine shocked a portion of our still innocent nation by announcing 
where national policy and important deals really were made in New York City. If the 
matter was relatively minor, the venue would be the Metropolitan, the Union League, or 
the University; if it were a middling matter it would be determined at the Knickerbocker 
or the Racquet; and if it required the utmost attention of powerful men, Brook or Links. 
Nothing happened in boardrooms or executive suites where it could be overheard by 
outlanders. Each city had this private ground where aristocracy met quietly out of the 
reach of prying eyes or unwelcome attendants. In San Francisco, the Pacific Union; in 
Washington, Cosmos or the Chevy Chase Club; the Sommerset in Boston; Duquesne in 
Pittsburgh; the Philadelphia Club in Philadelphia; the Chicago Club in Chicago. Once 
hands were shaken in these places, the process of public debate and certification was 
choreographed elsewhere for public and press. Government business came to be done this 
way, too. 

The entire web of affiliations among insiders in business, government, and the nonprofit 
sector operates through interpersonal and institutional ties which interconnect at the 
highest levels of finance, politics, commerce, school affairs, social work, the arts, and the 
media. Continuing conflicts of value within the leadership community give an appearance 
of adversarial proceedings, but each passing decade brings more and more harmony to 
the unseen community which plans the fate of schools and work. 

The General Education Board And Friends 

Reading through the papers of the Rockefeller Foundation's General Education Board — 
an endowment rivaled in school policy influence in the first half of the twentieth century 
only by Andrew Carnegie's various philanthropies — seven curious elements force 
themselves on the careful reader: 

1) There appears a clear intention to mold people through schooling. 2) There is a clear 
intention to eliminate tradition and scholarship. 3) The net effect of various projects is to 
create a strong class system verging on caste. 4) There is a clear intention to reduce mass 
critical intelligence while supporting infinite specialization. 5) There is clear intention to 

weaken parental influence. 6) There is clear intention to overthrow accepted custom. 7) 
There is striking congruency between the cumulative purposes of GEB projects and the 
Utopian precepts of the oddball religious sect, once known as Perfectionism, a secular 
religion aimed at making the perfection of human nature, not salvation or happiness, the 
purpose of existence. The agenda of philanthropy, which had so much to do with the 
schools we got, turns out to contain an intensely political component. 

This is not to deny that genuine altruistic interests aren't also a part of philanthropy, but 
as Ellen Lagemann correctly reflects in her interesting history of the Carnegie Foundation 
for the Advancement of Teaching, Private Power for the Public Good, "In advancing 
some interests, foundations have inevitably not advanced others. Hence their actions must 
have political consequences, even when political purposes are not avowed or even 
intended. To avoid politics in dealing with foundation history is to miss a crucial part of 
the story." 

Edward Berman, in Harvard Education Review, 49 (1979), puts it more brusquely. 
Focusing on Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Ford philanthropies, he concludes that the 
"public rhetoric of disinterested humanitarianism was little more than a facade" behind 
which the interests of the political state (not necessarily those of society) "have been 
actively furthered." The rise of foundations to key positions in educational policy 
formation amounted to what Clarence Karier called "the development of a fourth branch 
of government, one that effectively represented the interests of American corporate 

The corporate foundation is mainly a twentieth-century phenomenon, growing from 
twenty-one specimens of the breed in 1900 to approximately fifty thousand by 1990. 
From the beginning, foundations aimed squarely at educational policy formation. 
Rockefeller's General Education Board obtained an incorporating act from Congress in 
1903 and immediately began to organize schooling in the South, joining the older Slater 
cotton/woolen manufacturing interests and Peabody banking interests in a coalition in 
which Rockefeller picked up many of the bills. 

From the start, the GEB had a mission. A letter from John D. Rockefeller Sr. specified 
that his gifts were to be used "to promote a comprehensive system." You might well ask 
what interests the system was designed to promote, but you would be asking the wrong 
question. Frederick Gates, the Baptist minister hired to disburse Rockefeller largesse, 
gave a terse explanation when he said, "The key word is system." American life was too 
unsystematic to suit corporate genius. Rockefeller's foundation was about systematizing 

In 1913, the Sixty-Second Congress created a commission to investigate the role of these 
new foundations of Carnegie, Rockefeller, and of other corporate families. After a year of 
testimony it concluded: 

The domination of men in whose hands the final control of a large part of American 
industry rests is not limited to their employees, but is being rapidly extended to control 
the education and social services of the nation. 

Foundation grants directly enhance the interests of the corporations sponsoring them, it 
found. The conclusion of this congressional commission: 

The giant foundation exercises enormous power through direct use of its funds, free of 
any statutory entanglements so they can be directed precisely to the levers of a situation; 
this power, however, is substantially increased by building collateral alliances which 
insulate it from criticism and scrutiny. 

Foundations automatically make friends among banks which hold their large deposits, in 
investment houses which multiply their monies, in law firms which act as their counsels, 
and with the many firms, institutions, and individuals with which they deal and whom 
they benefit. By careful selection of trustees from the ranks of high editorial personnel 
and other media executives and proprietors, they can assure themselves press support, 
and by engaging public relations counselors can further create good publicity. As Rene 
Wormser, chief counsel for the second congressional inquiry into foundation life (1958), 
put it: 

All its connections and associations, plus the often sycophantic adulation of the many 
institutions and individuals who receive largesse from the foundation, give it an 
enormous aggregate of power and influence. This power extends beyond its immediate 
circle of associations, to those who hope to benefit from its bounty. 

In 1919, using Rockefeller money, John Dewey, by now a professor at Columbia 
Teachers College, an institution heavily endowed by Rockefeller, founded the 
Progressive Education Association. Through its existence it spread the philosophy which 
undergirds welfare capitalism — that the bulk of the population is biologically childlike, 
requiring lifelong care. 

From the start, Dewey was joined by other Columbia professors who made no secret that 
the objective of the PEA project was to use the educational system as a tool to 
accomplish political goals. In The Great Technology (1933), Harold Rugg elucidated the 
grand vision: 

A new public mind is to be created. How? Only by creating tens of millions of individual 
minds and welding them into a new social mind. Old stereotypes must be broken up and 
"new climates of opinion" formed in the neighborhoods of America. 

Through the schools of the world we shall disseminate a new conception of 
government — one that will embrace all the activities of men, one that will postulate the 
need of scientific control. the interest of all people. 

In similar fashion, the work of the Social Science Research Council culminated in a 
statement of Conclusions and Recommendations on its Carnegie Foundation-funded 
operations which had enormous and lasting impact upon education in the United States. 
Conclusions (1934) heralded the decline of the old order, stating aggressively that "a new 
age of collectivism is emerging" which will involve the supplanting of private property 

by public property" and will require "experimentation" and "almost certainly... a larger 
measure of compulsory cooperation of citizens... a corresponding enlargement of the 
functions of government, and an increasing state intervention... Rights will be altered and 
abridged." (emphasis added) 

Conclusions was a call to the teachers colleges to instruct their students to "condition" 
children into an acceptance of the new order in progress. Reading, writing, and arithmetic 
were to be marginalized as irrelevant, even counterproductive. "As often repeated, the 
first step is to consolidate leadership around the philosophy and purpose of education 
herein expounded." (emphasis added) The difficulties in trying to understand what such 
an odd locution as "compulsory cooperation" might really mean, or even trying to 
determine what historic definition of "education" would fit such a usage, were ignored. 
Those who wrote this report, and some of those who read it, were the only ones who held 
the Rosetta Stone to decipher it. 

In an article in Progressive Education Magazine, Professor Norman Woelfel produced 
one of the many children and grandchildren of the Conclusions report when he wrote in 
1946: "It might be necessary for us to control our press as the Russian press is controlled 
and as the Nazi press is controlled....", a startling conclusion he improved upon in his 
book Molders of the American Mind (1933) with this dark beauty: "In the minds of men 
who think experimentally, America is conceived as having a destiny which bursts the all 
too obvious limitations of Christian religious sanctions." 

The Rockefeller-endowed Lincoln Experimental School at Columbia Teachers College 
was the testing ground for Harold Rugg's series of textbooks, which moved 5 million 
copies by 1940 and millions more after that. In these books Rugg advanced this theory: 
"Education must be used to condition the people to accept social change. ...The chief 
function of schools is to plan the future of society." Like many of his activities over three 
vital decades on the school front, the notions Rugg put forth in The Great Technology 
(1933), were eventually translated into practice in urban centers. Rugg advocated that the 
major task of schools be seen as "indoctrinating" youth, using social "science" as the 
"core of the school curriculum" to bring about the desired climate of public opinion. 
Some attitudes Rugg advocated teaching were reconstruction of the national economic 
system to provide for central controls and an implantation of the attitude that educators as 
a group were "vastly superior to a priesthood": 

Our task is to create swiftly a compact body of minority opinion for the scientific 
reconstruction of our social order. 

Money for Rugg's six textbooks came from Rockefeller Foundation grants to the Lincoln 
School. He was paid two salaries by the foundation, one as an educational psychologist 
for Lincoln, the other as a professor of education at Teachers College, in addition to 
salaries for secretarial and research services. The General Education Board provided 
funds (equivalent to $500,000 in year 2000 purchasing power) to produce three books, 
which were then distributed by the National Education Association. 

In 1954, a second congressional investigation of foundation tampering (with schools and 
American social life) was attempted, headed by Carroll Reece of Tennessee. The Reece 
Commission quickly ran into a buzzsaw of opposition from influential centers of 
American corporate life. Major national newspapers hurled scathing criticisms, which, 
together with pressure from other potent political adversaries, forced the committee to 
disband prematurely, but not before there were some tentative findings: 

The power of the individual large foundation is enormous. Its various forms of patronage 
carry with them elements of thought control. It exerts immense influence on educator, 
educational processes, and educational institutions. It is capable of invisible coercion. It 
can materially predetermine the development of social and political concepts, academic 
opinion, thought leadership, public opinion. 

The power to influence national policy is amplified tremendously when foundations act 
in concert. There is such a concentration of foundation power in the United States, 
operating in education and the social sciences, with a gigantic aggregate of capital and 
income. This Interlock has some of the characteristics of an intellectual cartel. It operates 
in part through certain intermediary organizations supported by the foundations. It has 
ramifications in almost every phase of education. 

It has come to exercise very extensive practical control over social science and education. 
A system has arisen which gives enormous power to a relatively small group of 
individuals, having at their virtual command huge sums in public trust funds. 

The power of the large foundations and the Interlock has so influenced press, radio, 
television, and even government that it has become extremely difficult for objective 
criticism of anything the Interlock approves to get into news channels — without having 
first been ridiculed, slanted and discredited. 

Research in the social sciences plays a key part in the evolution of our society. Such 
research is now almost wholly in the control of professional employees of the large 
foundations. Even the great sums allotted by federal government to social science 
research have come into the virtual control of this professional group. 

Foundations have promoted a great excess of empirical research as contrasted with 
theoretical research, promoting an irresponsible "fact-finding mania" leading all too 
frequently to "scientism" or fake science. 

Associated with the excessive support of empirical method, the concentration of 
foundation power has tended to promote "moral relativity" to the detriment of our basic 
moral, religious, and governmental principles. It has tended to promote the concept of 
"social engineering," that foundation-approved "social scientists" alone are capable of 
guiding us into better ways of living, substituting synthetic principles for fundamental 
principles of action. 

These foundations and their intermediaries engage extensively in political activity, not in 
the form of direct support of candidates or parties, but in the conscious promotion of 
carefully calculated political concepts. 

The impact of foundation money upon education has been very heavy, tending to 
promote uniformity in approach and method, tending to induce the educator to become an 
agent for social change and a propagandist for the development of our society in the 
direction of some form of collectivism. In the international field, foundations and the 
Interlock, together with certain intermediary organizations, have exercised a strong effect 
upon foreign policy and upon public education in things international. This has been 
accomplished by vast propaganda, by supplying executives and advisors to government, 
and by controlling research through the power of the purse. The net result has been to 
promote "internationalism" in a particular sense — a form directed toward "world 
government" and a derogation of American nationalism, [emphasis added] 

Here we find ourselves confronted with the puzzling duty of interpreting why two 
separate congressional committees convened fifty years apart to study the workings of the 
new foundation institutions, one under a Democratic Congress, one under a Republican 
Congress, both reached essentially the same conclusions. Both adjudged foundations a 
clear and present danger to the traditional liberties of American national life. Both 
pointed to the use of foundation influence to create the blueprint of American school life. 
Both saw that a class system in America had emerged and was being supported by the 
class system in schooling. Both called for drastic action. And both were totally ignored. 

Actually the word "ignored" doesn't begin to do justice to what really occurred. These 
congressional investigations — like Sir Walter Scott's difficult to obtain Life of Napoleon 
Bonaparte — have not only vanished from public imagination, they aren't even alluded to 
in press discussions of schooling. Exactly as if they had never happened. This would be 
more understandable if their specific philanthropies were dull, pedestrian giveaways 
designed to distribute largesse and to build up good feeling toward the benevolence of 
colossal wealth and power. But the reality is strikingly different — corporate wealth 
through the foundations has advanced importantly the dumbing down of America's 
schools, the creation of a scientific class system, and important attacks on family 
integrity, national identification, religious rights, and national sovereignty. 

"School is the cheapest police," Horace Mann once said. It was a sentiment publicly 
spoken by every name — Sears, Pierce, Harris, Stowe, Lancaster, and the rest — 
prominently involved in creating universal school systems for the coal powers. One has 
only to browse Merle Curti's The Social Ideas of American Educators to discover that the 
greatest social idea educators had to sell the rich, and which they lost no opportunity to 
sell, was the police function of schooling. Although a pedagogical turn in the Quaker 
imagination is the reason schools came to look like penitentiaries, Quakers are not the 
principal reason they came to function like maximum security institutions. The reason 
they came to exist at all was to stabilize the social order and train the ranks. In a 
scientific, industrialized, corporate age, "stability" was much more exquisitely defined 
than ordinary people could imagine. To realize the new stability, the best breeding stock 

had to be drawn up into reservations, likewise the ordinary. "The Daughters of the Barons 
of Runnemede" is only a small piece of the puzzle; many more efficient and subtler 
quarantines were essayed. 

Perhaps subtlest of all was the welfare state, a welfare program for everybody, including 
the lowest, in which the political state bestowed alms the way the corporate Church used 
to do. Although the most visible beneficiaries of this gigantic project were those groups 
increasingly referred to as "masses," the poor were actually people most poorly served by 
this latter-day Hindu creation of Fabian socialism and the corporate brain trust. 
Subsidizing the excluded of the new society and economy was, it was believed, a 
humanitarian way to calm these troubled waters until the Darwinian storm had run its 
inevitable course into a new, genetically arranged Utopia. 

In a report issued in 1982 and widely publicized in important journals, the connection 
between corporate capitalism and the welfare state becomes manifest in a public 
document bearing the name Alan Pifer, then president of the Carnegie Corporation. 
Apparently fearing that the Reagan administration would alter the design of the Fabian 
project beyond its ability to survive, Pifer warned of: 

A mounting possibility of severe social unrest, and the consequent development among 
the upper classes and the business community of sufficient fear for the survival of our 
capitalist economic system to bring about an abrupt change of course. Just as we built the 
general welfare state. ..and expanded it in the 1960s as a safety valve for the easing of 
social tension, so will we do it again in the 1980s. Any other path is too risky. 

In the report quoted from, new conceptions of pedagogy were introduced which we now 
see struggling to be born: national certification for schoolteachers, bypassing the last 
vestige of local control in states, cities, and villages; a hierarchy of teacher positions; a 
project to bring to an end the hierarchy of school administrators — now adjudged largely 
an expenditure counter-productive to good social order, a failed experiment. In the new 
form, lead teachers manage schools after the British fashion and hire business 
administrators. The first expressions of this new initiative included the "mini-school" 
movement, now evolved into the charter school movement. Without denying these ideas 
a measure of merit, if you understand that their source is the same institutional 
consciousness which once sent river ironclads full of armed detectives to break the steel 
union at Homestead, machine-gunned strikers at River Rouge, and burned to death over a 
dozen women and children in Ludlow, those memories should inspire emotions more 
pensive than starry-eyed enthusiasm. 

Chapter Thirteen 

The Empty Child 

Walden Two (1948) B.F. Skinner. This utopist is a psychologist, inventor of a mechanical 
baby-tender, presently engaged on experiments testing the habit capacities of pigeons. 
Halfway through this contemporary Utopia, the reader may feel sure, as we did, that this 
is a beautifully ironic satire on what has been called "behavioral engineering".... Of all 
the dictatorships espoused by utopists, this is the most pro found.... The citizen of this ideal 
society is placed during his first year in a sterile cubicle, wherein the onditioning 
begins.... In conclusion, the perpetrator of this "modern" Utopia looks down from a 
nearby hill of the community which is his handiwork and proclaims: "I like to play God!" 
— Negley and Patrick, The Quest For Utopia 

Miss Skinner Sleeps Scientifically 

At the university people used to call Kings College before the American Revolution, I 
lived for a time under a psychological regime called behaviorism in the last golden 
moments before Mind Science took over American schooling. At Columbia, I was in on 
the transformation without ever knowing it. By the time it happened, I had shape-shifted 
into a schoolteacher, assigned to spend my adult life as a technician in the human rat cage 
we call public education. 

Although I may flatter myself, for one brief instant I think I was the summer favorite of 
Dr. Fred S. Keller at Columbia, a leading behaviorist of the late 1950s whose own college 
textbook was dedicated to his mentor, B.F. Skinner, that most famous of all behaviorists 
from Harvard. Skinner was then rearing his own infant daughter in a closed container 
with a window, much like keeping a baby in an aquarium, a device somewhat mis- 
described in the famous article "Baby in a Box," {Ladies Home Journal, September 28, 

Italian parents giving their own children a glass of wine in those days might have ended 
up in jail and their children in foster care, but what Skinner did was perfectly legal. For 
all I know, it still is. What happened to Miss Skinner? Apparently she was eventually sent 
to a famous progressive school the very opposite of a rat-conditioning cage, and grew up 
to be an artist. 

Speaking of boxes, Skinner commanded boxes of legal tender lecturing and consulting 
with business executives on the secrets of mass behavior he had presumably learned by 
watching trapped rats. From a marketing standpoint, the hardest task the rising field of 
behavioral psychology had in peddling its wares was masking its basic stimulus-response 
message (albeit one with a tiny twist) in enough different ways to justify calling 
behaviorism "a school." Fat consultancies were beginning to be available in the postwar 
years, but the total lore of behaviorism could be learned in about a day, so its 

embarrassing thinness required fast footwork to conceal. Being a behaviorist then would 
hardly have taxed the intellect of a parking lot attendant; it still doesn't. 

In those days, the U.S. Government was buying heavily into these not-so-secret secrets, 
as if anticipating that needy moment scheduled to arrive at the end of the twentieth 
century when Richard Barnet of the Institute for Policy Studies would write fox Harper's 
in a voice freighted with doom: 

The problem is starkly simple. An astonishingly large and increasing number of human 
beings are not needed or wanted to make the goods or provide the services that the paying 
customers of the world can afford. 

In the decades prior to this Malthusian assessment, a whole psychological Institute for 
Social Cookery sprang up like a toadstool in the United States to offer recipe books for 
America's future. Even then they knew that 80 percent of the next generation was neither 
needed nor wanted. Remedies had to be found to dispose of the menace psychologically. 

Skinner had wonderful recipes, better than anyone's. Not surprisingly, his procedures 
possessed a vague familiarity to readers listed in the Blue Book or the Social Register, 
people whose culture made them familiar with the training of dogs and falcons. Skinner 
had recipes for bed wetting, for interpersonal success, for management of labor, for 
hugging, for decision-making. His industrial group prepackaged hypotheses to train 
anyone for any situation. By 1957, his machines constituted the psychological technology 
of choice in institutions with helpless populations: juvenile detention centers, homes for 
the retarded, homes for wayward mothers, adoption agencies, orphan asylums — 
everywhere the image of childhood was most debased. The pot of gold at the end of 
Skinner's rainbow was School. 

Behaviorism's main psychological rival in 1957 was psychoanalysis, but this rival had 
lost momentum by the time big government checks were available to buy psychological 
services. There were many demerits against psychoanalysis: its primitive narrative 
theory, besides sounding weird, had a desperate time proving anything statistically. Its 
basic technique required simple data to be elaborated beyond the bounds of credibility. 
Even where that was tolerable, it was useless in a modern school setting built around a 
simulacrum of precision in labeling. 

Social learning theorists, many academic psychiatrists, anthropologists, or other 
specialists identified with a university or famous institution like the Mayo Clinic, were 
behaviorism's closest cash competition. But behind the complex exterior webs they wove 
about social behavior, all were really behaviorists at heart. Though they spun theory in 
the mood of Rousseau, the payoff in each case came down to selling behavioral 
prescriptions to the policy classes. Their instincts might lead them into lyrical flights that 
could link rock falls in the Crab Nebula to the fall of sparrows in Monongahela, but the 
bread and butter argument was that mass populations could be and should be controlled 
by the proper use of carrots and sticks. 

Another respectable rival for the crown behaviorism found itself holding after WWII was 
stage theory, which could vary from the poetic grammar of Erik Eriksson to the 
impenetrable mathematical tapestry of Jean Piaget, an exercise in chutzpah weaving the 
psychological destiny of mankind out of the testimony of less than two dozen bourgeois 
Swiss kids. Modest academic empires could be erected on allegiance to one stage theory 
or another, but there were so many they tended to get in each other's way. Like seven- 
step programs to lose weight and keep it off, stage theory provided friendly alternatives 
to training children like rats — but the more it came into direct competition with the 
misleading precision of Skinnerian psychology, the sillier its clay feet looked. 

All stage theory is embarrassingly culture-bound. Talk about the attention span of kids 
and suddenly you are forced to confront the fact that while eighteen-month-old 
Americans become restless after thirty seconds, Chinese of that age can closely watch a 
demonstration for five minutes. And while eight-year-old New Yorkers can barely tie 
their shoes, eight-year-old Amish put in a full work day on the family homestead. Even in 
a population apparently homogenous, stage theory can neither predict nor prescribe for 
individual cases. Stage theories sound right for the same reason astrological predictions 
do, but the disconnect between ideal narratives and reality becomes all too clear when 
you try to act on them. 

When stage theory was entering its own golden age in the late 1960s, behaviorism was 
already entrenched as the psychology of choice. The federal government's BSTEP 
document and many similar initiatives to control teacher preparation had won the field 
for the stimulus-response business. So much money was pouring into psychological 
schooling from government/corporate sources, however, that rat psychologists couldn't 
absorb it all. A foot-in-the-door opportunity presented itself, which stage theorists 
scrambled to seize. 

The controlling metaphor of all scientific stage theories is not, like behaviorism's, that 
people are built like machinery, but that they grow like vegetables. Kinder requires 
garten, an easy sell to people sick of being treated like machinery. For all its seeming 
humanitarianism, stage theory is just another way to look beyond individuals to social 
class abstractions. If nobody possesses a singular spirit, then nobody has a sovereign 
personal destiny. Mother Teresa, Tolstoy, Hitler — they don't signify for stage theory, 
though from time to time they are asked to stand as representatives of types. 


To understand empty child theory, you have to visit with behaviorists. Their meal ticket 
was hastily jerry-built by the advertising agency guru John Watson and by Edward Lee 
Thorndike, founder of educational psychology. Watson's "Behaviorist Manifesto" (1913) 
promoted a then novel utilitarian psychology whose "theoretical goal is the prediction 
and control of behavior." Like much that passes for wisdom on the collegiate circuit, their 
baby was stitched together from the carcasses of older ideas. Behaviorism (Thorndike's 
version, stillborn, was called "Connectionism") was a purified hybrid of Wilhelm 
Wundt's laboratory at Leipzig and Comte's positivism broadcast in the pragmatic idiom 

of the Scottish common-sense philosophers. We needn't trace all the dead body parts 
pasted together to sigh at the claim of an originality which isn't there — reminiscent of 
Howard Gardner's fashion as seer of multiple intelligence theory — an idea as ancient as 
the pyramids. 

Behaviorists read entrails; they spy on the movements of trapped and hopeless animals, 
usually rats or pigeons. This gives an advantage over other psychologists of standing on a 
pile of animal corpses as the emblem of their science. The study of learning is their chief 
occupation: how rats can be driven to run a maze or press a bar with the proper schedule 
of reward and punishment. Almost from the start they abjured the use of the terms reward 
and punishment, concluding that these beg the question. Who is to say what is rewarding 
except the subject? And the subject tells us more credibly with his future behavior than 
with his testimony. You can only tell whether a reward is truly rewarding from watching 
future behavior. This accurate little semantic curve ball allows a new discipline to grow 
around the terms "positive reinforcement" (reward) and "negative reinforcement" 

Behavior to behaviorists is only what can be seen and measured; there is no inner life. 
Skinner added a wrinkle to the simpler idea of Pavlovian conditioning from which 
subsequent libraries of learned essays have been written, when he stated that the stimulus 
for behavior is usually generated internally. In his so-called "operant" conditioning, the 
stimulus is thus written with a small "s" rather than with a Pavlovian capital "S." So 
what? Just this: Skinner's lowercase, internal "s" leaves a tiny hole for the ghost of free 
will to sneak through! 

Despite the furor this created in the world of academic psychology, the tempest-in-a- 
teapot nature of lowercase/uppercase stimuli is revealed from Skinner's further assertion 
that these mysterious internal stimuli of his can be perfectly controlled by manipulating 
exterior reinforcements according to proper schedules. In other words, even if you do 
have a will (not certain), your will is still perfectly programmable! You can be brought to 
love Big Brother all the same. 

The way I came to the attention of Dr. Keller's teaching assistants was by writing a 
program to cause coeds to surrender their virginity behaviorally without realizing they 
had been scored, with an operant conditioning program. My blueprint delighted the 
assistants. Copies were prepared and sent informally to other colleges; one went, I 
believe, to Skinner himself. When I look back on my well-schooled self who played this 
stupid prank I'm disgusted, but it should serve as a warning how an army of grown-up 
children was and still is encouraged to experiment on each other as a form of higher-level 
modern thinking. An entire echelon of management has been trained in the habit of 
scientific pornography caught by the title of the Cole Porter song, "Anything Goes." 

Behaviorism has no built-in moral brakes to restrain it other than legal jeopardy. You 
hardly have to guess how irresistible this outlook was to cigarette companies, proprietary 
drug purveyors, market researchers, hustlers of white bread, bankers, stock salesmen, 
makers of extruded plastic knick-knacks, sugar brokers, and, of course, to men on 

horseback and heads of state. A short time after I began as a behaviorist, I quit, having 
seen enough of the ragged Eichmannesque crew at Columbia drawn like iron filings to 
this magnetic program which promised to simplify all the confusion of life into 
underlying schemes of reinforcement. 


The worm lives in our initial conception of human nature. Are human beings to be 
trusted? With what reservations? To what degree? The official answer has lately been 
"not much," at least since the end of WWII. Christopher Lasch was able to locate some 
form of surveillance, apprehension, confinement, or other security procedure at the 
bottom of more than a fifth of the jobs in the United States. Presumably that's because we 
don't trust each other. Where could that mistrust have been learned? 

As we measure each other, we select a course to follow. A curriculum is a racecourse. 
How we lay it out is contingent on assumptions we make about the horses and spectators. 
So it is with school. Are children empty vessels? What do you think? I suspect not many 
parents look at their offspring as empty vessels because contradictory evidence 
accumulates from birth, but the whole weight of our economy and its job prospects is 
built on the outlook that people are empty, or so plastic it's the same thing. 

The commodification of childhood — making it a product which can be sold — demands a 
psychological frame in which kids can be molded. A handful of philosophers dominates 
modern thinking because they argue this idea, and in arguing it they open up possibilities 
to guide history to a conclusion in some perfected society. Are children empty? John 
Locke said they were in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding: 

Let us suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper, void of all characters, without any 
ideas; how comes it to be furnished? Whence comes it by that vast store...? To this I 
answer in one word, from Experience; in that all our knowledge is founded, and from that 
it ultimately derives itself. 

Are there no innate ideas? Does the mind lack capacities and powers of its own, being 
etched exclusively by sensory inputs? Locke apparently thought so, with only a few 
disclaimers so wispy they were abandoned by his standard bearers almost at once. Are 
minds blank like white paper, capable of accepting writing from whoever possesses the 
ink? Empty like a gas tank or a sugar bowl to be filled by anyone who can locate the 
filler-hole? Was John Watson right when he said in 1930: 

Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them 
up in and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of 
specialist I might select — doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief, and yes, even beggar- 
man and thief, regardless of his talents, his penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and 
race of his ancestors. 

Do you find something attractive in that presumption of plasticity in human nature? So 
did Joseph Stalin and Chairman Mao, two of the century's foremost applied behaviorists 
on the grand scale. Taylorism sought to manage by the control of physical movements 
and environments, but the behaviorists wanted more certainty than that, they wanted 
control of the inner life, too. A great many reflective analyses have placed our own two 
Roosevelt presidencies in the same broad category. 

The trouble in school arises from disagreement about what life is for. If we believe 
human beings have no unique personal essence, this question is meaningless, but even 
then you can't get rid of the idea easily. Life commands your answer. You cannot refuse 
because your actions write your answer large for everyone to see, even if you don't see it 
yourself. As you regard human nature, you will teach. Or as someone else regards it, you 
will teach. There aren't any third ways. 

Is human nature empty? If it is, who claims a right to fill it? In such circumstances, what 
can "school" mean? 

If ever a situation was capable of revealing the exquisite power of metaphor to control 
our lives, this must be it. Are children empty? As helpless infants and dependent youth 
we lay exposed to the metaphors of our guardians; they colonize our spirit. 


Among structural engineers, the terms plastic and elastic describe propensities of 
material; these are concepts which can also be brought to bear on the question whether 
human nature is built out of accidents of experience or whether there is some divine inner 
spark in all of us that makes each person unique and self-determining. As you decide, the 
schools which march forward from your decision are predestined. Immanuel Kant 
thought both conditions possible, a strong, continuous effort of will tipping the balance. 

In structural engineering, implications of the original builder/creator's decision are 
inescapable; constructions like bridges and skyscrapers do have an inner nature given 
them by the materials chosen and the shapes imposed, an integrity long experience has 
allowed us to profile. The structure will defend this integrity, resisting wind stress, for 
example, which threatens to change its shape permanently. 

When stress increases dangerously as it would in a hurricane, the building material 
becomes elastic, surrendering part of its integrity temporarily to protect the rest, 
compromising to save its total character in the long run. When the wind abates the urge to 
resume the original shape becomes dominant and the bridge or building relaxes back to 
normal. A human analogy is that we remember who we are in school even when coerced 
to act like somebody else. In engineering, this integrity of memory is called elastic 
behavior. Actors practice deliberate elasticity and the Chechens or the Hmong express 
remarkable group elasticity. After violent stresses abate, they remember who they are. 

But another road exists. To end unbearable stress, material has a choice of surrendering 
its memory. Under continued stress, material can become plastic, losing its elasticity and 
changing its shape permanently. Watch your own kids as their schooling progresses. Are 
they like Chechens with a fierce personal integrity and an inner resilience? Or under the 
stress of the social laboratory of schooling, have they become plastic over time, kids you 
hardly recognize, kids who've lost their original integrity? 

In the collapse of a bridge or building in high wind, a decisive turning point is reached 
when the structure abandons its nature and becomes plastic. Trained observers can tell 
when elasticity is fading because prior to the moment of collapse, the structure cannot 
regain its original shape. It loses its spirit, taking on new and unexpected shapes in a 
struggle to resist further change. When this happens it is wordlessly crying HELP ME! 
HELP ME! just as so many kids did in all the schools in which I ever taught. 

The most important task I assigned myself as a schoolteacher was helping kids regain 
their integrity, but I lost many, their desperate, last-ditch resistance giving way, their 
integrity shattering before my horrified eyes. Look back in memory at your kids before 
first grade, then fast forward to seventh. Have they disintegrated into warring fragments 
divided against themselves? Don't believe anyone who tells you that's natural human 

If there are no absolutes, as pragmatists like Dewey assert, then human nature must be 
plastic. Then the spirit can be successfully deformed from its original shape and will have 
no sanctuary in which to resist institutional stamping. The Deweys further assert that 
human nature processed this way is able to perform efficiently what is asked of it later on 
by society. Escaping our original identity will actually improve most of us, they say. This 
is the basic hypothesis ofutopia-building, that the structure ofpersonhood can be broken 
and reformed again and again for the better. 

Plasticity is the base on which scientific psychology must stand if it is to be prescriptive, 
and if not prescriptive, who needs it? Finding an aggressive, instrumental psychology 
associated with schooling is a sure sign empty-child attitudes aren't far away. The notion 
of empty children has origins predating psychology, of course, but the most important 
engine reshaping American schools into socialization laboratories, 1 after Wundt, was the 
widely publicized work of Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) who had been 
a student of Wundt at Leipzig. Pavlov won the Nobel in 1904, credited with discovering 
the conditioned reflex whereby systems of physical function thought to be fixed 
biologically, like the salivation of dogs, could be rewired to irrelevant outside stimuli, 
like bells ringing. 

This had immense influence on the spread of behavioral psychology into government 
agencies and corporate boardrooms, for it seemed to herald the discovery of master 
wiring diagrams which could eventually bring the entire population under control of 
physiological psychology. 

Pavlov became the most prestigious ally of the behavioral enterprise with his Nobel. His 
text The Conditioned Reflexes (1926) provided a sacred document to be waved at 
skeptics, and his Russian nationality aided immeasurably, harmonizing well with the long 
romance American intellectuals had with the Soviet Union. Even today Pavlov is a name 
to conjure with. Russian revolutionary experimentation allowed the testing of what was 
possible to go much further and faster than could have happened in America and western 

Notions of emptiness turn the pedestrian problem of basic skills schooling into the 
complex political question of which outside agencies with particular agendas to impose 
will be allowed to write the curriculum. And there are nuances. For instance, the old- 
fashioned idea of an empty container suggests a hollow to be filled, an approach not 
unfamiliar to people who went to school before 1960. But plastic emptiness is a different 
matter. It might lead to an armory of tricks designed to fix, distract, and motivate the 
subject to cooperate in its own transformation — the new style commonly found in public 
schools after 1960. The newer style has given rise to an intricately elaborated theory of 
incentives capable of assisting managers to work their agenda on the managed. Only a 
few years ago, almost every public-school teacher in the country had to submit a list of 
classroom motivation employed, to be inspected by school managers. 

The whole concept of "socialization" has been the subject of a large library of books and may beconsidered to occupy an honored role as one 
of the most important ongoing studies (and debates) in modern history. In shorthand, what socialization is concerned with from a political 
standpoint is the discovery and application of a system of domination which does not involve physical coercion. Coercion (as Hegel is thought 
to have proven) will inevitably provoke the formation of a formidable counter-force, in time overthrowing the coercive force. The fall of the 
Soviet Union might be taken as an object lesson. 

Before Hegel, for 250 years along with other institutions of that society the state church of England was a diligent student of socialization. The 
British landowning class was a great university of understanding how to proceed adversarially against restive groups without overt signs of 
intimidation, and the learnings of this class were transmitted to America. For example, during the second great enclosure movement which 
ended in 1875, with half of all British agricultural land in the hands of just two thousand people, owners maintained social and political control 
over even the smallest everyday affairs of the countryside and village. Village halls were usually under control of the Church of England whose 
clergy were certifiably safe, its officials doubling as listening posts among the population. All accommodations suitable for meetings were 
under direct or indirect control of the landed interests. It was almost impossible for any sort of activity to take place unless it met with the 
approval of owners. 

Lacking a long tradition of upper-class solidarity, the United States had to distill lessons from England and elsewhere with a science of public 
opinion control whose ultimate base was the new schools. Still, before schooling could be brought efficiently to that purpose, much time had to 
pass during which other initiatives in socialization were tried. One of these, the control of print sources of information, is particularly 

After the Rockefeller disaster in the coal fields of southeastern Colorado in April of 1914, ordinary counter-publicity was insufficient to stem 
the tide of attacks on corporate America coming from mass circulation magazines such as Leslie 's Illustrated Weekly, McClures 's, 
Everybody 's, Success, Hampton 's, Collier 's, The Arena, The Masses, and others. A counterattack was launched to destroy the effectiveness of 
the magazines: West Virginia Pulp and Paper bought McClure 's, Butterick Patterns bought Everybody 's, bankers folded Success by calling in 
its loans and ordered the editors of Collier 's to change its editorial policies, the distributor of Arena informed the publisher that unsold copies 
would no longer be returned, and Max Eastman's Masses was doomed by the passage of legislation enabling the postmaster to remove any 
publication from the mails at his own discretion. Through these and similar measures, the press and magazines of the United States had been 
fairly effectively muzzled by 1915 with not a single printing press broken by labor goons. These midrange steps in the socialization of 
American society can best be seen as exposing the will to homogenize at work in this country once the entire economy had been corporatized. 

Emptiness: The Master Theory 

Conceptions of emptiness to be filled as the foundation metaphor of schooling are not 
confined to hollowness and plasticity, but also include theories of mechanism. De La 
Mettrie's 2 Man a Machine vision from the Enlightenment, for instance, is evidence of an 

idea regularly recurring for millennia. If we are mechanisms, we must be predetermined, 
as Calvin said. Then the whole notion of "Education" is nonsensical. There is no 
independent inner essence to be drawn forth and developed. Only adjustments are 
possible, and if the contraption doesn't work right, it should be junked. Everything 
important about machinery is superficial. 

This notion of machine emptiness has been the master theory of human nature since the 
beginning of the nineteenth century. It still takes turns in curriculum formation with 
theories of vegetable emptiness, plastic emptiness, systems emptiness and, from time to 
time, some good old-fashioned Lockean blank sheet emptiness. Nobody writes 
curriculum for self-determined spiritual individuals and expects to sell it in the public 
school market. 

This hardline empiricism descends to us most directly from Locke and Hume, who both 
said Mind lacks capacities and powers of its own. It has no innate contents. Everything 
etched there comes from simple sense impressions mixed and compounded. This chilly 
notion was greatly refined by the French ideologues^ who thought the world so orderly 
and mechanical, the future course of history could be predicted on the basis of the 
position and velocity of molecules. For these men, the importance of human agency 
vanished entirely. With Napoleon, these ideas were given global reach a few years later. 
So seductive is this mechanical worldview it has proven itself immune to damage by facts 
which contradict it. 4 

2 Julien Offray de La Mettrie (1709-1751) was theearliest of the materialistic writers of the Enlightenment.His conclusion that religious thought 
was a physical disorder akin to fever forced him to flee France. In the middle of the eighteenth century his two master works, Man a Machine 
and Man a Plant, stated principles which are self-evident from the titles. The ethics of these principles are worked out in later essays. The 
purpose of life is to pleasure the senses, virtue is measured by self-love, the hope of the world lies in the spread of atheism. De La Mettrie was 
compelled to flee the Netherlands and accept the protection of Frederick of Prussia in 1748. The chief authority for his life is an eulogy entitled 
"The Elegy," written by Frederick II himself. 

3 Ideologue is a term coined by Antoine Destuit de Tracy around 1 790 to describe those empiricists and rationalists concerned to establish a new 
order in the intellectual realm, eradicating the influence of religion, replacing it with universal education as the premier solution to the problem 
of reforming human shortcomings. They believed that Hume's rationalized morality (after the methods of chemistry, physics, mathematics, and 
astronomy) was the best way to accomplish this. 

For instance, the serious problems encountered by mechanists in the nineteenth century when develop- 
ments in electricity revealed a cornucopia of nonmechanical, nongravitational forces and entities which eroded the classical conception of 
matter. In optics, the work of Young and Fresnel on diffraction and refraction made Newton's particle theory of light untenable, yet it was still 
being taught in senior physics at Uniontown High School when I got there in the 1950s. The earth might move, but human nature only accepts 
the move when it suits human purposes. 

A Metaphysical Commitment 

At the core of every scientific research program (and forced schooling is the largest such 
program in history) lies a metaphysical commitment on which all decision-making rests. 
For instance, the perspective of which pedagogy and behavioral science are both latter- 
day extensions rests on six pillars: 

1. The world is independent of thought. It is atomic in its basic constituents. 

2. The real properties of bodies are bulk, figure, texture, and motion. 

3. Time and Space are real entities; the latter is Euclidean in its properties. 

4. Mass is inert. Rest or uniform motion are equally "natural" conditions involving 
no consciousness. 

5. Gravitational attraction exists between all masses. 

6. Energy is conserved in interactions. 

There is no obvious procedure for establishing any of these principles as true. There is no 
obvious experimental disproof of them either, or any way to meet Karl Popper's 
falsification requirement or Quine's modification of it. Yet these religious principles, as 
much metaphysics as physics, constitute the backbone of the most powerful research 
program in modern history: Newtonian physics and its modern fellow travelers. 5 

The psychology which most naturally emerges from a mechanical worldview is 
behaviorism, an outlook which dominates American school thinking. When you hear that 
classrooms have been psychologized, what the speaker usually means is that under the 
surface appearance of old-fashioned lessons what actually is underway is an experiment 
with human machines in a controlled setting. These experiments follow some 
predetermined program during which various "adjustments" are made as data feed back 
to the design engineers. In a psychologized classroom, teachers and common 
administrators are pedagogues, kept unaware of the significance of the processes they 
superintend. After a century of being on the outside, there is a strong tradition of 
indifference or outright cynicism about Ultimate Purpose among both groups. 

Behaviorism holds afictionalist attitude toward intelligence: mind simply doesn't exist. 
"Intelligence" is only behavioral shorthand for, "In condition A, player B will act in range 
C, D, and E rather than A, B and C." There is no substantive intelligence, only dynamic 
relationships with different settings and different dramatic ceremonies. 

The classic statement of behavioristic intelligence is E.G. Boring's 1923 definition, 
"Intelli-gence is what an intelligence test measures." Echoes of Boring reverberate in 
Conant's sterile definition of education as "what goes on in schools." Education is 
whatever schools say it is. This is a carry-over of Percy Bridgman's 6 recommendation for 
an ultimate kind of simplification in physics sometimes known as operationalism (which 
gives us the familiar "operational definition"), e.g., Boring's definition of intelligence. 
This project in science grew out of the positivistic project in philosophy which contends 
that all significant meaning lies on the surface of things. Positivism spurns any analysis 
of the deep structure underlying appearances. Psychological behaviorism is positivism 
applied to the conjecture that a science of behavior might be established. It's a guess how 
things ought to work, not a science of how they do. 

B.F. Skinner's entire strategy of behavioral trickery designed to create beliefs, attitudes, 
and behavior patterns in whole societies is set down in Walden Two, a bizarre illustration 
of some presumed uses of emptiness, but also a summary of observations (all uncredited 
by Skinner) of earlier undertakings in psychological warfare, propaganda, advertising 
research, etc., including contributions from public relations, marketing, schooling, 
military experience, and animal training. Much that Skinner claimed as his own wasn't 

even secondhand — it had been commonplace for centuries among philosophers. Perhaps 
all of it is no more than that. 

My discussion here is instructed by the lectures of Michael Matthews, philosopher of science. 

7 Physics professor, Harvard. He won the 1946 Nobel Prize. Perhaps the most influential American writer on the philosophy of science in the 
twentieth century. 

The Limits Of Behavioral Theory 

The multibillion dollar school-materials industry is stuffed with curriculum 
psychologized through application of behaviorist theory in its design and operation. What 
these kits are about is introducing various forms of external reinforcement into learning, 
based on the hypothesis the student is a stimulus-response machine. This surrender to 
questionable science fails its own test of rationality in the following ways. 

First and foremost, the materials don't work dependably. Behavior can be affected, but 
fallout is often negative and daunting. The insubstantial metaphysics of Behaviorism 
leads it to radically simplify reality; the content of this psychology is then always being 
undermined by experience. 

Even some presumed core truths, e.g., "simple to complex, we learn to walk before we 
can run" (I've humanized the barbaric jargon of the field), are only half-truths whose 
application in a classroom provoke trouble. In suburban schools a slow chaos of boredom 
ensues from every behavioral program; in ghetto schools the boredom turns to violence. 
Even in better neighborhoods, the result of psychological manipulation is indifference, 
cynicism, and overall loss of respect for the pedagogical enterprise. Behavioral theory 
demands endless recorded observations and assessments in the face of mountainous 
evidence that interruptions and delays caused by such assessments create formidable 
obstacles to learning — and for many derail the possibility entirely. 

By stressing the importance of controlled experience and sensation as the building blocks 
of training, behaviorism reveals its inability to deal with the inconvenient truth that a 
huge portion of experience is conceptualized in language. Without mastery of language 
and metaphor, we are condemned to mystification. The inescapable reality is that behind 
the universality of abstraction, we have a particular language with a particular 
personality. It takes hard work to learn how to use it, harder work to learn how to protect 
yourself from the deceptive language of strangers. Even our earliest experience is 
mediated through language since the birth vault itself is not soundproof. 

Reality Engages The Banana 

Michael Matthews' analysis of language as a primary behavior in itself will serve as an 
illustration of the holes in rat psychology. His subject is the simple banana. 8 Contrary to 
the religion of behaviorism, we don't experience bananas as soft, yellowish, mildly 
fibrous sense impressions. Instead, reality engages the banana in drama: "Food!", "Good 

for you!", "Swallow it down or I'll beat you into jelly!" We learn rules about bananas 
(Don't rub them in the carpet), futurity (Let's have bananas again tomorrow), and value 
(These damn bananas cost an arm and a leg!). And we learn these things through words. 

When behaviorism pontificates that children should all "learn from experience," with the 
implication that books and intellectual concepts count for little, it exposes its own 
poverty. Behaviorism provides no way to quantify the overwhelming presence of 
language as the major experience of modern life for everyone, rich and poor. 
Behaviorism has to pretend words don't really matter, only "behavior" (as it defines the 

To maintain that all knowledge is exclusively sense experience is actually not to say 
much at all, since sense experience is continuous and unstoppable as long as we are alive. 
That is like saying you need to breathe to stay alive or eat to prevent hunger. Who 
disagrees? The fascinating aspect of this psychological shell game lies in the self- 
understanding of behavioral experts that they have nothing much to sell their clientele 
that a dog trainer wouldn't peddle for pennies. The low instinct of this poor relative of 
philosophy has always been to preempt common knowledge and learning ways, translate 
the operations into argot, process them into an institutional form, then find customers to 
buy the result. 

There is no purpose down deep in any of these empty-child systems except the jigsaw 
puzzle addict's purpose of making every piece FIT. Why don't children learn to read in 
schools? Because it doesn 't matter in a behavioral universe. This goes far beyond a 
contest of many methods; it's a contest of perspectives. Why should they read? We have 
too many smart people as it is. Only a few have any work worth doing. Only the logic of 
machinery and systems protects your girl and boy when you send them off to behavioral 
laboratories on the yellow behaviorist bus. Should systems care? They aren't Mom and 
Dad, you know. 

'While fact-checking the book in March 2003, 1 had occasion to contact Professor Matthews in Australia, who had no memory of ever using 
bananas in his scholarly prose! Fortunately, he found the reference in his works several days later and was gracious enough to contact me, or 
this lovely critique of psychobabble would have been lost to the Underground History. 

Programming The Empty Child 

To get an act of faith this unlikely off the ground there had to be some more potent vision 
than Skinner could provide, some evidence more compelling than reinforcement schedule 
data to inspire men of affairs to back the project. There had to be foundational visions for 
the scientific quest. One will have to stand for all, and the one I've selected for 
examination is among the most horrifyingly influential books ever to issue from a human 
pen, a rival in every way to Frederick Taylor's Scientific Management. The author was 
Jean Jacques Rousseau. The book, Emile, published in 1762. Whether Rousseau had 
given his own five children away to the foundling home before or after he wrote it, I can't 
say for sure. Before, I'm told. 

Emile is a detailed account of the total transformation of a boy of ten under the precisely 
calculated behavioral ministrations of a psychological schoolmaster. Rousseau showed 
the world how to write on the empty child Locke had fathered; he supplied means by 
which Locke's potent image could be converted to methodology. It took only a quarter 
century for Germans to catch on to the pick-and-shovel utility of dreamy Rousseau, only 
a little longer for Americans and English to do the same. Once Rousseau was fully 
digested, the temptation to see society's children as human resources proved irresistible 
to those nations which had gone furthest in developing the mineral resource, coal, and its 
useful spirits, heat and steam. 

Rousseau's influence over pedagogy began when empty child explanations of human 
nature came to dominate. With emotional religion, village life, local elites, and American 
tradition reeling from hammer blows of mass immigration, the nation was broadly 
transformed at the beginning of the twentieth century without much conscious public 
awareness of what was happening. 

One blueprint for the great transformation was Emile, an attempt to reestablish Eden 
using a procedure Rousseau called "negative education." Before the book gets to 
protagonist Emile, we are treated to this instructive vignette of an anonymous student: 

The poor child lets himself be taken away, he turned to look backward with regret, fell 
silent, and departed, his eyes swollen with tears he dared not shed and his heavy heart 
with the sigh he dared not exhale. 

Thus is the student victim led to the schoolmaster. What happens next is reassurance that 
such a scene will never claim Emile: 

Oh you [spoken to Emile] who have nothing similar to fear; you, for whom no time of 
life is a time of constraint or boredom; you, who look forward to the day without disquiet 
and to the night without impatience — come, my happy and good natured pupil, come and 
console us." 

Look at Rousseau's scene closely. Overlook its sexual innuendo and you notice the 
effusion is couched entirely in negatives. The teacher has no positive expectations at all; 
he promises an absence of pain, boredom, and ill-temper, just what Prozac delivers. 
Emile 's instructor says the boy likes him because he knows "he will never be a long time 
without distraction" and because "we never depend on each other." 

This idea of negation is striking. Nobody owes anybody anything; obligation and duty are 
illusions. Emile isn't happy; he's "the opposite of the unhappy child." Emile will learn "to 
commit himself to the habit of not contracting any habits." He will have no passionately 
held commitments, no outside interests, no enthusiasms, and no significant relationships 
other than with the tutor. He must void his memory of everything but the immediate 
moment, as children raised in adoption and foster care are prone to do. He is to feel, not 
think. He is to be emptied in preparation for his initiation as a mindless article of nature. 

The similarity of all this to a drugged state dawns on the critical reader. Emile is to find 
negative freedom — freedom from attachment, freedom from danger, freedom from duty 
and responsibility, etc. But Rousseau scrupulously avoids a question anybody might ask: 
What is this freedom for? What is its point? 

The creepy tone of this authorial voice reminded me of a similar modern voice used by a district school psychologist for the Londonderry, 
New Hampshire, public schools writing in an Education Week article, "Teacher as Therapist" (October 1995): 

"Welcome. ...We get a good feeling on entering this classroom.... M&M's for every correct math problem [aren't necessary]. A smile, on the 
other hand, a "Good Job!" or a pat on the back may be effective and all that is necessary. Smiling faces on papers (even at the high-level) with 
special recognition at the end of the week for the students with the most faces. ..can be powerful.... By setting appropriate expectations within a 
system of positive recognition and negative consequences, teachers become therapists." 

Dr. Watson Presumes 

Leapfrogging 163 years, Dr. John B. Watson, modern father of behaviorism, answered 
that question this way in the closing paragraphs of his Behaviorism (1925), when he 
appealed to parents to surrender quietly: 

I am trying to dangle a stimulus in front of you which if acted upon will gradually change 
this universe. For the universe will change if you bring your children up not in the 
freedom of the libertine, but in behavioristic freedom.... Will not these children in turn 
with their better ways of living and thinking replace us as society, and in turn bring up 
their children in a still more scientific way, until the world finally becomes a place fit for 
human habitation? 

It was an offer School wasn't about to let your kid refuse. Edna Heidbredder was the first 
insider to put the bell on this cat in a wonderful little book, Seven Psychologies (1933). A 
psychology professor from Minnesota, she described the advent of behaviorism this way 
seven decades ago: 

The simple fact is that American psychologists had grown restive under conventional 
restraints. They were finding the old problems lifeless and thin, they were "half sick of 
shadows" and... welcomed a plain, downright revolt. [Behaviorism] called upon its 
followers to fight an enemy who must be utterly destroyed, not merely to parley with one 
who might be induced to modify his ways. 

John B. Watson, a fast-buck huckster turned psychologist, issued this warning in 1919: 
The human creature is purely a stimulus-response machine. The notion of consciousness 
is a "useless and vicious" survival of medieval religious "superstition." Behaviorism does 
not "pretend to be disinterested psychology," it is "frankly" an applied science. Miss 
Heidbredder continues: "Behaviorism is distinctly interested in the welfare and 
salvation — the strictly secular salvation — of the human race." 

She saw behaviorism making "enormous conquests" of other psychologies through its 
"violence" and "steady infiltration" of the marketplace, figuring "in editorials, literary 
criticism, social and political discussions, and sermons.... Its program for bettering 

humanity by the most efficient methods of science has made an all but irresistible appeal 
to the attention of the American public." 

"It has become a crusade," she said, "against the enemies of science, much more than a 
mere school of psychology." It has "something of the character of a cult." Its adherents 
"are devoted to a cause; they are in possession of a truth." And the heart of that truth is "if 
human beings are to be improved we must recognize the importance of infancy," for in 
infancy "the student may see behavior in the making, may note the repertoire of reactions 
a human being has... and discover the ways in which they are modified...." (emphasis 
added) During the early years a child may be taught "fear," "defeat," and "surrender" — or 
of course their opposites. From "the standpoint of practical control" youth was the name 
of the game for this aggressive cult; it flowed like poisoned syrup into every nook and 
cranny of the economy, into advertising, public relations, packaging, radio, press, 
television in its dramatic programming, news programming, and public affairs shows, 
into military training, "psychological" warfare, and intelligence operations, but while all 
this was going on, selected tendrils from the same behavioral crusade snaked into the 
Federal Bureau of Education, state education departments, teacher training institutions, 
think tanks, and foundations. The movement was leveraged with astonishing amounts of 
business and government cash and other resources from the late 1950s onwards because 
the payoff it promised to deliver was vast. The prize: the colonization of the young before 
they had an opportunity to develop resistance. The holy grail of market research. 

Back to Rousseau's Emile. When I left you hanging, you had just learned that Emile's 
"liberty" was a well-regulated one. Rousseau hastens to warn us the teacher must take 
great pains to "hide from his student the laws that limit his freedom." It will not do for the 
subject to see the walls of his jail. Emile is happy because he thinks no chains are held on 
him by his teacher/facilitator. But he is wrong. In fact the tutor makes Emile entirely 
dependent on minuscule rewards and microscopic punishments, like changes in vocal 
tone. He programs Emile without the boy's knowledge, boasting of this in asides to the 
reader. Emile is conditioned according to predetermined plan every minute, his 
instruction an ultimate form of invisible mind control. The goals of Rousseau's 
educational plan are resignation, passivity, patience, and, the joker-in-the-deck, 
levelheadedness. Here is the very model for duplicitous pedagogy. 

This treating of pupils as guinea pigs became B.F. Skinner's stock in trade. In a moment 
of candor he once claimed, "We can achieve a sort of control under which the controlled 
nevertheless feel free, though they are following a code much more scrupulously than 
was ever the case under the old system." Rousseau was Skinner's tutor. 

'The "problem" with English phonics has been wildly exaggerated, sometimes by sincere people but most 
often by those who make a living as guides through the supposed perils of learning to read. These latter 
constitute a vast commercial empire with linkages among state education departments, foundations, 
publishers, authors of school readers, press, magazines, education journals, university departments of 
education, professional organizations, teachers, reading specialists, local administrators, local school 
boards, various politicians who facilitate the process and the U.S. offices of education, defense and labor. 

2 Mitford Mathews, Teaching to Read Historically Considered (1966). A brief, intelligent history of reading. 
A number of other good treatments are available for the newcomer. 

Cleaning The Canvas 

Traditional education can be seen as sculptural in nature, individual destiny is written 
somewhere within the human being, awaiting dross to be removed before a true image 
shines forth. Schooling, on the other hand, seeks a way to make mind and character 
blank, so others may chisel the destiny thereon. 

Karl Popper's book The Open Society and Its Enemies reveals with great clarity how old 
the idea of tabula rasa (erroneously attributed to John Locke) actually is. In writing of 
Plato's great Utopia, The Republic, Popper shows Socrates telling auditors: "They will 
take as their canvas a city and the characters of men, and they will, first of all, make their 
canvas clean — by no means an easy matter.... They will not start work on a city nor on an 
individual unless they are given a clean canvas, or have cleaned it themselves." (emphasis 
added) Popper continues: 

In the same spirit, Plato says in The Statesman of the royal rulers who rule in accordance 
with the royal science of statesmanship: "Whether they happen to rule by law or without 
law, over willing or unwilling subjects;... whether they purge the state for its good by 
killing or banishing some of its citizens — as long as they proceed according to 
science. ..this form of government must be declared the only one that is right." This is 
what canvas-cleaning means. He must eradicate existing institutions and traditions. He 
must purify, purge, expel, banish and kill. 

Canvas-cleaning frees the individual of all responsibility. Morality is voided, replaced by 
reinforcement schedules. In their most enlightened form, theories of a therapeutic 
community are those in which only positive reinforcements are prescribed. 

The therapeutic community is as close as your nearest public school. In the article 
"Teacher as Therapist" (footnote, pages 270-271), a glimpse of Emile programmed on a 
national scale is available. Its innocently garrulous author paints a landscape of therapy, 
openly identifying schools as behavioral training centers whose positive and negative 
reinforcement schedules are planned cooperatively in advance, and each teacher is a 
therapist. Here everything is planned down to the smallest "minimal recognition," 
nothing is accidental. Planned smiles or "stern looks," spontaneity is a weed to be 
exterminated — you will remember the injunction to draw smiling faces on every paper, 
"even at the high school